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Ron Reefman
06/24/2015, 07:07 AM
My wife and I have been snorkeling in the Florida Middle Keys for about 10 years now. We do go out to the big reef spots once a year or so, but we'd much rather snorkel shallower spots where we can look for things we can't see while snorkeling at deeper and protected reefs. We enjoy finding brittle and serpent sea stars, mantis shrimp, sea cucumbers, coral banded shrimp, lobsters, spaghetti worms, fan worms, several varieties of conch, sand dollars, sea biscuits, all kinds of crabs (big and small), snails, small stony corals, lots of soft corals, flamingo tongue snails and other mollusks. And while in the shallows we've seen squid, octopus (both small and medium sized), rays, sharks, moray eels, barracuda, juvenile tropical fish, a couple of large turtles and more.

We have done a lot of 'off the beach' snorkeling where no boat is required. We've done some near shore islands where a kayak, inflatable or small boat is required. And we have just upgraded our Achilles high pressure air floor and 5hp Honda outboard (now for sale) to a Zodiac rib with a 20hp Suzuki. Now we can start getting a bit further away from the main string of islands.

I'm willing to share locations and reviews of the places we've snorkeled... even google earth maps.

One super easy and very cool location is Bahia Honda State Park. Off the beach on the southwest end of the island (ocean side) has a great assortment of things to see. The water is shallow a long way off shore. At low tide you can easily get close to a 1/4 mile off the beach and still be in just 5' to 8' of water. There are a wide variety of gorgonian corals, some stony corals, occasionally even larger stony corals, many big ball and vase sponges along with tons of very colorful smaller sponges. There are lots of juvenile tropical fish. We've even seen a few moray eels, reef squid, and even a ray or shark on days that the water isn't crowded with snorkelers. Go about halfway between the bath house and the SW end of the island, then go straight out off the beach. By 100' out you will start seeing cool stuff. And the further out you go, the bigger the gorgonians get and the more often you will find uncommon stuff.

The 2 drawbacks to Bahia Honda are it costs money to get in the park and it's protected, so no collecting of any live animals. But you can pick up rocks and look for critter underneath.


We hit 5 spots last trip (June 19th-22nd) and here are a few pics.

Typical of the big reefs, here is one we did on a snorkel charter.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6200106%20R1_zpsnnmmxfdd.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6200106%20R1_zpsnnmmxfdd.jpg.html)



But close to shore we can pick up rocks and find things like these.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6200427%20R1_zpsvcuwoca2.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6200427%20R1_zpsvcuwoca2.jpg.html)


Sorry for the blurry pic, but this beautiful coral was just 10 feet off the beach in less than 3' of water.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6210057%20R1_zpsp7gmsuzn.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6210057%20R1_zpsp7gmsuzn.jpg.html)


And not 20' from that coral we found these. I saw the star first and it was really big at 10" or more.
But then I saw something move down at the other end of the rock that I couldn't ID at first. Then it moved over by the star.
It's the first moray eel I've seen completely out of it's hole, and a spotted moray at that!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/moray%20eel_zps6jhpidjx.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/moray%20eel_zps6jhpidjx.jpg.html)


We regularly visit about 8-10 other sites in the middle keys (near Marathon). I'm willing to share if anybody is interested. And I'd really like to find some spots in the upper and lower keys or islands that are off shore... especially within the range of an 11' Zodiac and a 20hp outboard!

water is wet
06/29/2015, 08:51 AM
Thanks for sharing! My wife and I were in the keys for our first time in April and are hoping to make it down in September. When you say the sw end of Bahia Honda are you referring to the area where you can walk under the bridge where there is a bit of a current?

Ron Reefman
07/04/2015, 09:14 AM
Hi, and I'm sorry for taking so long to reply, but I'm way busier now that I'm retired than I ever was when I worked!

Yes and no, I mean the SW end on the ocean side from 100 yards to 300 yards up the beach from the old Flagler RR bridge. Here is a map. If you use Google Earth you can get a very good view.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Bahia%20snorkel%20map%20jpeg_zps36lrpdka.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Bahia%20snorkel%20map%20jpeg_zps36lrpdka.jpg.html)

The beach and very near shore is mostly sand and a few rocky areas. Out at the edge of the very low tide waterline is where turtle grass and some other things grow. Another 50 feet out, about 2' to 3' deep the grasses pretty much go away and you start to see gorgonians, macro algae, lots of sponges (big and small) and lots of other sea life. We have been out as much as 400 yards off the beach and the water was 4' to 8' deep and the gorgonians and sponges get much bigger and the area is much less 'disturbed' by the snorkelers who stay in the shallows.

If seeing sea life other than corals is something you might enjoy, try the next island SW from Bahia Honda. As soon as you are off the bridge there is a turn off to the right (bay side or nw). It ends in a small parking lot and a large path that goes out to an old quarry. It's commonly known as the 'Horseshoe' by the snorkelers in our aquarium club.

Inside it's 40" or more deep, but outside the quarry arms it's shallow and there is a huge variety of eco systems from sandy flats near shore on the SW, very shallow grassy flats out further, good current flow out at the ends of the quarry arms makes great habitat for anemones, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, shrimp, clams, feather dusters, spaghetti worms, and tropical fish. Around from there, to the NE corner of the quarry and you get into slightly deeper water grass flats and if you go parallel to shore but away from the quarry there are shallows that are covered with stony corals, small sponges of every type and lots of other small critters including some zoas and palys. If you dare to get out along the boat channel (a diver down flag is an absolute must at the Horseshoe) there are lobsters, banned coral shrimp, flame scallops, cowries and lionfish. The other advantage to the Horseshoe is that even on windy days, the area is so well protected because of the island shoreline and the quarry arms that stick out in the water, there is always at least some area that is calm enough to snorkel, although visibility may be somewhat reduced due to the stirred up water. Here is a map. The Horseshoe is pretty obvious at the left side, it looks a bit like a swimming pool along the shoreline.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/snorkel%20map_zpshvd6v5jm.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/snorkel%20map_zpshvd6v5jm.jpg.html)

You mentioned trying to come back in August. Weather in the Keys is a bit shaky in August as it's peak hurricane and tropical storm month and therefore even normal summertime afternoon thunderstorms are more frequent and sever (Aug is peak rainfall month). The water is so warm it's like bath water, which is great for extended snorkel times with just a dive skin to protect you from the sun. But Oct and Nov might be much better choices if that is possible. The hurricane and tropical storm threat goes down considerably and the water is still quite warm.

If you'd like to chat more or ask questions, don't try to send me a PM, I'm on probation here... god only knows how long they're going to keep me here. I go to the SWFMAS.com website at least twice a day.

G_Sanab922
07/06/2015, 09:28 AM
Tried skimming some of your thread, you mentioned you want snorkeling locations in the upper keys. First off, there are no beaches worth going to for snorkeling in the upper keys. Everything is off shore. And really , you can get out there with your zodiac , at least I wouldn't recommend it.
So with that, if you know how to navigate a boat well then rent a boat or book a local charter.
The best spot in key largo is Molasses reef, varied depths and a lot of life! If you go on the weekend on a good day there might be a lot of boats though. Still the best spot hands down though. I always take my friends there and everyone loves it.
We have a lot of different places here, to cut down the list and make it easier I'm going to post a link.
http://www.rainbowreef.us/dive-locations-in-key-largo/
This is a good starting point.
A spot that isn't mentioned there that is in reaching distance for your zodiac is a shallow exposed wreck right off Garden Cove , which is in the upper part of key largo before Elbow reef and dry rocks.

Regarding the months, I prefer August over Oct/Nov any day. From Sept to Jan the chance for jellyfish increases like crazy.. You are guaranteed to see during those months. Which is why the snorkeling charters give a lot of deals during those months. I've been out during Sept and Oct and you literally swim in a sea of jellyfish. I gave up on going to the reefs/ocean side during that time period. I don't mean to scare anyone but I'm talking hundreds/thousands of them. Maybe you get lucky and there's none or very little that day, that's awesome. But I wouldn't want to go out and spend the money/fuel to take that risk, it turns a great experience into a bad one.
Enough about the jellies, Oct/Nov/Dec is also great fishing for Sailfish. What does that mean? A lot of wind! Most of the reefs are on the edge which mean that can also turn it into a bad experience. Also, the water will be very turbid.

Ron Reefman
07/07/2015, 06:25 AM
G Sanab922, thanks for the information. We have taken trips out to some of these reefs in the past and they have some very nice dive sites, but are a bit deeper than I like for snorkeling. It's fun to see great coral heads and tropical fish. I know that is what most tourists are really looking for when they think reefs and coral. These are all good locations. But I'm not inclined to take an 11' Zodiac out 5 miles into open water... especially at the tender age of 66.

My issue is that I'm not just out to see big corals and tropical fish from a distance in deep water. I like to snorkel shallows and see the shallow reef ecosystem up close and personal. If you are snorkeling it's nearly impossible to see any smaller animals in water that is 20' or more deep. What I'm looking for are shallow reef like ecosystems where it's 10' deep or less.

I didn't expect to find much in the Upper Keys, but I'm always open to suggestions, like the grounded boat near Garden Cove. It looks interesting and probably worth a visit. Thanks for telling us about it. If you know of a boat ramp near there where we could launch from, that would be useful as well. We snorkeled the Penekamp State Park beach and were very disappointed as there is almost nothing to see there. We tried a couple of Florida Bay side sites in the Upper Keys and it was interesting. Lots of marco algae and upside down jellyfish. For those who aren't familiar with them, they do pack a sting if you touch them with bare skin, but 99% of the time they are just laying on the bottom, tentacle side up, thus the name 'upside down' jellyfish. And they don't move much at all so there is very little danger.

I think most of the good shallow water snorkeling sites will be in the Middle and Lower Keys. As I said in my first post, we go to a number of sites in the Middle Keys off Vayca Key (Marathon) and down to Spanish Harbor Key (SW of Bahia Honda). Has anybody snorkeled around Pigeon Key near the middle of the Seven Mile Bridge? Looking down on it from the walking bridge has our interest level up. We saw some very cool big wildlife there from 50' up on the bridge.

We may try and go out to Munson Rocks once we get a bit more familiar with the new Zodiac. We snorkeled there 10 years ago when we had a 26' McGregor sailboat.

The areas we are looking for don't need to be reefs or even reef like. As long as they have lots of marine life that we can enjoy. We snorkeled in Coupon Bight many years ago and it was interesting. It's nice and shallow, has lots of macro algae and lots of anemones. We weren't as informed about other marine life back then as we are now and some day I'd like to go back and see it again.

As for jellyfish in the Sept -Jan months, we have noticed it a bit, but nothing like G Sanab922 describes it. We see more washed up on the beach at Bahia Honda than we see in the water. And on the Florida Bay side we almost never see Jellyfish other than the upside down ones mentioned above. As for wind, waves and turbid water... that can happen any time of year. That's why having an alternative like a lee side of the Keys site to snorkel is worth the effort to find, as well as having other attractions to visit, like the History of Diving Museum on Islamorada or any tourist trap in Key West.

G_Sanab922
07/07/2015, 11:28 AM
You are welcome, but in that case since you like sticking more to shore and shallower areas, try out Founders Park (Islamorada) beach. It's decent and I know a couple reefing buddies that go there to collect hermits and small stuff.
Another spot but it's very rocky is , harry harris park (Tavernier), small fee to go in. Don't go to the beach that's enclosed. There's nothing to see or enjoy there. They have a ramp so drop off your zodiac there and go along the shore going north. It's shallow so watch out and lots of rocks so I suggest using some booties if you don't use them regularly.

I can't recommend anywhere from marathon and south because I don't go down there that much. Bahia Honda is great but for me it's not worth it to go regularly since I live in key largo lol...
Regarding the bayside, unless you can find a wreck there's nothing to see near public places. Lots of sand lots of grass.
Will PM you Ron about the exposed wreck.

Ron Reefman
07/10/2015, 05:18 AM
G Sanab922, thanks for the follow up info. We are headed your way this weekend and plan to be in the Keys most of the following week. We'll look into Founders Park and Harry Harris Park.

It's funny you say it isn't worth it to drive to Bahia Honda because you live in Key Largo, but if you want shallow reef flats to snorkel, it's the best we've found and we drive 5 hours from SW Florida to go there. But yo scuba dive, right? So I understand not going to the shallow flats like Bahia Honda.

BTW, we come pretty well prepared went it comes to snorkel trips. We each carry a full size dive bag with dive skin, thin wet suit, spare mask, dive flags, fins and boots. No point in driving 5 hours to get there and then miss out due to some silly equipment failure.

You can get me at mrhandyrsl@hotmail.com

Thanks

StinkyBunny
07/12/2015, 07:42 PM
We used to dive right off Stock Island right before you get to Key West. One thing to ALWAYS take into account is the tides and currents. Be very mindful of your position in relation to the end of a key or breakwater. I'm a very strong swimmer and I didn't watch what I was doing and had to swim 500 metres back to shore while my wife watched, laughing the whole time, lol. If you're not a strong swimmer, an oversight like that could very well turn tragic quickly.

Ron Reefman
07/13/2015, 05:52 AM
I assume by "dive" you mean "snorkel"? And I'd love to know where off of Stock Island and what was it like? Any info will be greatly appreciated. We are in the Keys on vacation now and heading to Money Key and Little Money Key (along the Seven Mile Bridge) today. Pictures to follow.

And thanks for the potential site and any other info you can share.

water is wet
07/13/2015, 06:26 AM
It was very intimidating going down for the first time having never really been to the ocean aside from the cold water in Maine. We are most definitely interested in snorkeling and scuba diving the reefs at some point but we would like to get comfortable with the water first so these locations that don't require a boat are excellent for us.

We also enjoyed Biscayne Bay. First two steps in the water and there was a roughly 2' barracuda that stayed just about as far from me as he was long. Then there was the Spotted Eagle Ray in no more than 2' of water that was circling us while feeding. It was awesome for sure!


Thanks for all the info guys!

Ron Reefman
07/13/2015, 03:58 PM
Rays and barracuda are harmless as long as you leave them alone. The cuda looks really mean, but ignore them and they'll leave you alone... as long as you don't have any shiny jewelry on... that looks like a minnow and the cuda may go for it. Even most sharks won't bother with people. Unless they are really big (a 4' nurse shark isn't big), or they are really hungry (so don't swim a dusk because that's feeding time. Do play with moray eels either.

With out a boat, Bahia Honda State Park and the Horseshoe a few miles down the road are the best we've ever been to. We were out at Money Key today and had a ball. I've never seen so many serpent & brittle stars. We picked up one rock and there were at least 6 big and several small stars along with a few plump sea cucumbers. I'll post up a few picks when I get a chance. I did collect a few stars, one has a blue/purple disc and white legs, very pretty. Also collected some nice size snails. FWC met us at the boat ramp, but we had everything they wanted, horn, PFDs, saltwater fishing licenses. I suspect they are looking for people collecting lobsters a few days before season opens.

water is wet
07/13/2015, 04:43 PM
What do I have to do in order to legally collect down there? I do realize that Bahia Honda is of limits.

G_Sanab922
07/14/2015, 09:12 AM
Agreed with all of what Ron said :) Be careful out there this is when the crazies go out on the water. Especially with how beautiful the weather is right now.

First off definitely need your Saltwater fishing license. It's cheap.
http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/aquarium-species/

This is for your aquarium. Make sure you are within bag/size limit. And take note that these collected fish/corals can never be sold or bartered! If caught the fines are really bad. $5000+ fines, arrest, jail time, probation where you cannot enter Florida waters for 6months - 12 months. FWC does not take it lightly. And I don't blame them, when I go out and see all these crazy people out there.
If you plan on being out on the water, one recommendation when visiting, try not to come during holidays if you can.

Make sure you know all your zones, species, gear. But follow the link it has good info. It's pretty detailed. You can always email/call them and they will answer any questions you have.

Mcgeezer
07/14/2015, 02:40 PM
I like snorkeling/diving at Grecian Rocks in Pennekamp state park. The reef cuts off a lot of the waves so you have a much calmer experience, along with shallow water. I always see the most amazing things out there. There is an orange Elkhorn colony there that is literally 10-12' tall and 6-7' wide. If you like sps, it will blow your mind. I can't even imagine how old it is. There is also the most intriguing array of gorgonians to be found. It does get busy however with snorkeling charters at times.

One of the better shallow diving spots in the Islamorada area is called "hens and chickens"

Ron Reefman
07/16/2015, 05:01 AM
Mcgeezer, thanks for the tip on the 'hens & chicks' site. We'll be sure to look into that one of these next trips.

We got back from the Keys yesterday. We had great weather and mostly clear water. We snorkeled off Bahia Honda beach, at Little Bahia Honda Key (1/4 mile off shore), Little Money Key (1/4 mile from the boat ramp right at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge) and Money Key (a mile from the boat ramp).

The bad news is that conditions at Little Money Key have gone down hill quite a bit. We used to see a lot of zoas, and queen conch as recently as last summer, but algae and curly cue anemones are starting to take over. We saw almost no zoas, only a couple of conch and even the porites coral (finger coral) which used to 'litter' the bottom all over the area are on poor condition. It was very disappointing to see the decline.

On the other hand, Little Bahia Honda Key was much better than the last time I was there a couple of years ago. All kinds of marine life, especially under movable rocks. One of the highlights of our day was the big cowfish (18" to 24" long) that followed us around because we were uncovering potential food for him. It was almost spooky that he seems completely at ease being right up close and personal with us. So close I poked him in the side a couple of times when I was looking under rocks. BTW, they are very solid fish. It was like poking my finger into a fiberglass boat hull! Once I even grabbed it's tail for a second and then let go. He swam 5 feet away and then turned around and swam right back up into my face! Like less than a foot from my mask. It was a bit unnerving.

Here he is eating a rock boring urchin and feeding a bunch of his little friends.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/big%20cowfish%20eatting%20P7140105_zpsmmuhlca4.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/big%20cowfish%20eatting%20P7140105_zpsmmuhlca4.jpg.html)

And here is a sample of how willing he was to get right in my face.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/cowfish%20face%20to%20face%20P7140107%20R2_zps68af61u5.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/cowfish%20face%20to%20face%20P7140107%20R2_zps68af61u5.jpg.html)


And this is fairly typical of what was under the rocks. There were rock boring urchins, stars, emerald crabs, other bigger crabs, sea cucumbers, spaghetti worms, fire worms, sponges, mantis shrimp, corals and more.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P7140094_zpsua83fpch.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P7140094_zpsua83fpch.jpg.html)


At Money Key, along side the Seven Mile Bridge on the ocean side, we snorkeled the side away from the bridge. Just like at Little Bahia Honda Key, the marine life was everywhere. As soon as I stepped out of the boat, there was a big Bahamian sea star (they seem to be recovering in the area).

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Bahamian%20Sea%20Star%20P7130102_zps1o9zcbfh.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Bahamian%20Sea%20Star%20P7130102_zps1o9zcbfh.jpg.html)


We found several species of conch. Here is one as they appear on the bottom and then we picked it up and found it was having lunch.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Horse%20conch%20on%20bottom%20P7130235_zpsd1di3qbg.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Horse%20conch%20on%20bottom%20P7130235_zpsd1di3qbg.jpg.html)


http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Horse%20conch%20at%20mealtime%20P7130238_zpsbeph9x0z.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Horse%20conch%20at%20mealtime%20P7130238_zpsbeph9x0z.jpg.html)


I did collect 2 stars, a red/black brittle star and this leopard spotted serpent star.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/serpent%20star%20lepard%20spots%20P7130155_zpsaar9okgz.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/serpent%20star%20lepard%20spots%20P7130155_zpsaar9okgz.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
07/16/2015, 05:21 AM
To 'water is wet',

Although Little Bahia Honda Key and Little Money Keys are 1/4 mile off shore and Money Key is a mile off shore, they are all reachable by kayak which can be rented from any number of locations. Yes, we use an 11' Zodiac with a 20hp outboard, but my wife is a chicken when it comes to getting away from shore in anything small, so I need the speed boat. She's a nervous wreck before we go and then she's always so happy I 'pushed' her into going after we get back. But if the seas are fairly calm, people do get to these islands on kayaks and then do some snorkeling.

G_Sanab922 is right about collecting. A Florida Saltwater Fishing License and obeying the collecting rules and you'll be fine... as far as the FWC is concerned. We got checked over when we came in from Money Key this trip. Getting live critters to your motel, and keeping them alive there and on the ride home can be a much harder task. I use a 7 gallon bucket, a 5 gallon insullated Gatorade container, a 120v bubbler & air stone (in the motel) and battery bubbler and air stone on the boat and in the car. Also be careful about keeping the bucket in the motel room over night. If your room is in the low 70's and you are pushing that air into the water, it will cool off pretty quickly. The animals are in water that is in the upper 80's this time of year and the drop in temp that far and that fast can kill some critters and seriously weaken most others. I use the battery bubbler and leave the bucket outside of our room over night. I also do a water change in the morning and again in the evening (our motel is on the water).

The only other advise is, don't be greedy. Collect a few animals and you run a good chance at getting them home alive. Try collecting a bunch of animals and you'll have a really hard time keeping the water clean. Ammonia builds up and you start losing animals and from there the cycle only gets worse.

G_Sanab922
07/16/2015, 12:25 PM
Nice pics Ron! Good stuff, makes me want to play hooky tomorrow and go out there! haha

Ron Reefman
07/16/2015, 03:59 PM
I'd love to take credit for them, but I'm the 'rock turner' and my wife is the current photographer. But I'm doing a lot less collecting now and my photographic passion has been race cars. But I took a few underwater pics this last day and enjoyed it. I may have to buy a second camera as the wife isn't willing to share hers too much! LOL!

Up close and personal with a happy Gorgonian.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/happy%20gorgonians%20P7140212%20R3_zpsnizoozid.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/happy%20gorgonians%20P7140212%20R3_zpsnizoozid.jpg.html)


A Gorgonian forest.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/gorgonian%20forest%20close%20up%20P7140178_zpsoru7d0dx.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/gorgonian%20forest%20close%20up%20P7140178_zpsoru7d0dx.jpg.html)


The top vents of a barrel or ball sponge.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/barrel%20sponge%20vent%20P7140171_zpsixfjoqwh.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/barrel%20sponge%20vent%20P7140171_zpsixfjoqwh.jpg.html)

water is wet
07/17/2015, 08:37 AM
That's awesome Ron! I can't wait to check out some of these locations!

NiTr0x911
07/17/2015, 05:32 PM
Awesome thread ! I'll be headed down in a few weeks to get some snorkeling in.Alot of good info here.Any other good spots please post them :bounce3:

Ron Reefman
07/19/2015, 06:19 AM
NiTrOx911, are you looking for great corals like the big reef, or shallows that are easy to get to, like off a beach and where you can play 'rock turner'? Or both?

BTW, to anybody who is interested in the rock turning. I only turn over smaller ones and then I'm carful to turn them back and try not to injure any critters. certian animals like being on the sunny side of a rock and others only like the dark side of the rock. And this is especially try of sponges which are made up of thousands of live animals in a big (or small) colony. When it come to bigger rocks, I just pick up one end and then try to set it back down the way I found it and do it as gently as possible. Also, dive gloves are a good idea as many rocks have sharp edges or critters with sharp edges and even some that animals that can hurt you, fire worms, mantis shrimp, bigger crabs, heck, even moray eels! (see the 4th photo in the very first post).

NiTr0x911
07/19/2015, 07:09 AM
Hi Ron,Interested in both but my Wife will enjoy the Rock Turning option better.When I lived in West Palm I remember taking our jet ski to an Indian Historic Island I believe off Islamorada? This trip down would want to go off the shore.Thanks!

Ron Reefman
07/20/2015, 08:21 AM
Hi Ron,Interested in both but my Wife will enjoy the Rock Turning option better.When I lived in West Palm I remember taking our jet ski to an Indian Historic Island I believe off Islamorada? This trip down would want to go off the shore.Thanks!

Do you mean go snorkeling off the shore or go 'off shore' as in out to the big reef?

I'm going to assume you mean snorkel off the beach. Bahia Honda State Park is the very best I've been to for seeing good stuff and being able to touch and play with the critters (but no collecting). Rent a kayak there and take it out to Little Bahia Honda and there are tons of things too see. Especially if you want to look under rocks! And having been there a lot, we are looking for new sites to try if anybody has any alternatives? Two issues to be aware of: visibility and tides.

Visibility: If there is (or was yesterday) a strong onshore wind to the oceanside of the island, visibility will be reduced. If the winds are making the oceanside too rough, try the other side of the island. Especially at the eastern side of the outlet from the marina. Everybody stays in the swimming area to the west side. But with a diver down flag you'll be OK off the other side. It's a small area and I only recommend it as a 'last resort' if conditions are bad out on the oceanside. The other alternative is the next island down, Spanish Harbor Key at the 'Horseshoe' which is an old quarry. You can see it on the 2nd aerial photo in Post #3. The rubble all around the outside is interesting, tons of rocks to look under and you can legally collect if you want. Also, directly over the other side of the island from the Horseshoe is kind of like the oceanside at Bahia Honda. Not as big and not as diverse, but pretty good, less people, free and just a walk over the highway and down the hill. Water entry can be a bit tricky with rocks and holes.

Tides: We have seen people kayak out to Little Bahia Honda almost every time we have been there (once or twice a year). But be aware of the tides as getting back to shore on an out going tide can be a fairly hard paddle. Also, snorkeling at the SW end of the island in either tide can be a lot of work. Trying to catch it an hour before high tide or low tide gives you a couple of hours of fairly comfortable water conditions. Tides and wind have very little effect on conditions at the Horseshoe because it's pretty well protected.

I know where Indian Key is and we have wondered if it would be worth going out to take a look. Can you give us any idea of what it was like there? There are several other near shore Keys in the area like Lignmvitae Key Teatable Key, Shell Key, Cotton Key, or just outside of Long Key Bight. Has anybody ever snorkeled any of these sites or know of any other good beach or near shore snorkel sites?

JDM_SOHC
07/20/2015, 01:26 PM
Looks awesome Ron! I've been telling my girl that we need to go down to Bahia and do a lil snorkeling adventure.. How are your tanks holding up..?

Ron Reefman
07/20/2015, 06:35 PM
Tanks are doing well. Thanks for asking. The 180g is getting overgrown with corals again and I need to start fraging. The 75g is becoming a FOWLR, the 65 now has all the great rock flower anemones and other local stuff. The frag tank was cleared out recently and is now filling up with frags from the 180. I just did 5 frags of the ORA Purple Stylophora and I hope to frag a few more later this week.

Ron Reefman
07/30/2015, 05:52 AM
Anybody got anything more they could add?

I won't be back to the Keys to snorkel until sometime Sept. But I'm more than happy to discuss ideas and options here.

water is wet
07/30/2015, 06:20 AM
I wish I did.:( We are still hoping to go back in the fall for a short visit with a longer stay planned for late winter.:bounce1:

G_Sanab922
07/30/2015, 01:09 PM
Ron, have you tried Sombrero Beach?

Ron Reefman
07/31/2015, 08:29 AM
I wish I did.:( We are still hoping to go back in the fall for a short visit with a longer stay planned for late winter.:bounce1:

Stay in touch. We go about 4 or 5 times over the Spring and Fall. Summer is great too, but afternoon rains are a regular issue and hurricanes can really screw up a vacation! Winter is OK. The water is kind of cold for us Floridians, but like gardens up north, the shallow reefs near shore tend to look a lot more barren in the winter.

Ron, have you tried Sombrero Beach?
I've been to Sombrero Reef, out by the lighthouse, and I've walked Sombrero Beach, but never considered snorkeling there. Have you snorkeled there? If so, how was it.

To everybody else: I'd like to try and keep this thread active if we can. I'm always up to learn more about snorkeling the Keys in any way, shape or form! So even if you are a newbie or just going to go try it for the first time, share your ideas, questions and results.

Thanks

Ron Reefman
08/05/2015, 06:26 AM
After 3 long weekend or mid week snorkel trips to the Keys in just 3 months, I'm starting to have withdrawal issues. LOL!

I want to get back for more of this:

Bahia Honda State Park at the far ENE end.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/A%20wide%20angle%20palmsR4_zpsvhnmuebb.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/A%20wide%20angle%20palmsR4_zpsvhnmuebb.jpg.html)

A Gorgonian forest.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/gorgonian%20forest%20close%20up%20P7140178_zpsoru7d0dx.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/gorgonian%20forest%20close%20up%20P7140178_zpsoru7d0dx.jpg.html)

Zoas that came home from the Keys as 10 polyps (5 for me and 5 for my wife because 5 polyps per person per day is the limit). But they have grown well and even done some weird morphing in my frag tank.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P3290389R1%20Little%20Money%20zoas_zpspyvxrf5o.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P3290389R1%20Little%20Money%20zoas_zpspyvxrf5o.jpg.html)

Our friend the tiny octopus.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/octopusinhandcloseup_zps829be9c9.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/octopusinhandcloseup_zps829be9c9.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
08/05/2015, 07:16 AM
An octopus that size is so much fun. Found one very similar when I went to the Turks & Caicos. Great pics as usual :thumbsup:
Nice Zoas Ron!
To answer your question, no I haven't snorkeled there but it's an idea. It's a nice beach either way.

Came up with another spot, it's a popular hang out spot for boats. It's currently in construction so not accessible by car.
It's called American Outdoor, it's on the bayside. The Seawall has mostly sand but you can find plenty of critters there. Then if you get deeper, from 4-5ft you'll find more critters. Not a great spot, but still nice and shallow and one of the best sunset views. Anyone with a small boat can get there.

Ron Reefman
08/06/2015, 05:29 AM
Thanks for the lead, now how about some location info. I Googled American Outdoors and found nothing in the Keys. Just an America Outdoors near Naples? Any help would be very appreciated.


The little octopus was great fun. My wife had picked up a really big chunk of 'finger' coral, a little bigger than the size of a softball. In it there was an emerald crab, a nice serpent star and the octopus.

We found one living in a pin shell that had washed up on the beach of Sanibel (SW Florida near Ft Myers) after a winter cold front had passed through. We had about 15 or 20 'snowbirds' huddled around us looking at it and asking questions about what we were doing. After a few minutes I walked the octopus out into the water and let it go. As I turned to walk back to the beach, there were 2 people in uniforms with official looking patches and name badges waiting for me. As I walked toward them I went through my mental checklist. We had our saltwater fishing licenses, so we are allowed to collect certain animals, there were only some small porcilian crabs, small pistol shrimp and a couple very small serpent stars in our bucket, all legal. So I said to myself, "I'm OK."

One of the officers said, "Can I ask you a question?" I said, "Sure." The officer asked me where do I teach? I'd don't teach, I'm retired and never was a teacher. The officer told me that given the 'lecture' I was giving to everybody on the beach about what we were doing, I must have been a marine biologist at the local college or high school. LOL!

For a few seconds there, I was concerned that I had done something wrong or collected something I shouldn't have and didn't know it. The really funny thing is, back 45+ years ago I was very close to getting my college degree in teaching. But back then, teachers were a dime a dozen and had terrible times trying to get jobs. I really wanted to teach. But I switched to business school and got my degree in marketing. I still get a kick out of 'teaching' interested people about things they don't know. Some of the group that were gathered around when I had the octopus were from places like North Dakota, Arkansas and Vermont! They vacation in SW Florida, but they don't know the secrets we locals do. LOL!

Here is a pic of the Bahamian Star that I almost stepped on as I got out of the boat while at Money Key. We don't see a lot of these in the Keys, but when we went to Bimini about 10 years ago, they were everywhere. I even found one that was full size, was perfectly formed, but only had 4 legs. My guess is it was born that way, or lost one leg when very young and it didn't grow back?

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Bahamian%20Sea%20Star%20P7130102_zps1o9zcbfh.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Bahamian%20Sea%20Star%20P7130102_zps1o9zcbfh.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
08/07/2015, 12:16 PM
https://www.facebook.com/pages/American-Outdoors/191286314237015

This is the best link I could find. The facebook page has a map showing where it is.

Got a pic of that pistol shrimp?

Ron Reefman
08/08/2015, 04:59 AM
Sorry, but no. When we get them out of the orange sponges that wash up on the beach, the stars, shrimp and crabs are so small they would be hard to get a good photo. I'll give it a try this Fall or Winter when we get a strong NW wind from a cold front. The tricky part is, you need to get to the beach as soon as you can. Like at the tail end of the windy day or the early the very next morning. Otherwise the sponges will have dried out and all the critters inside will have died. So the collecting we do is really saving their lives. And after I put them in the aquarium I almost never see them. Hear them, yes, see them, hardly ever. Even 2' down in a 180g aquarium, when they snap that front claw it sounds just like somebody who was standing in front of the aquarium and snapped their fingers.

chrisqueenz
08/11/2015, 09:39 AM
I have snorkeled sombrero beach and there is quite a bit of wild life there. We were just there in May and saw a variety of things such as urchins, barracudas, blue tangs, sting rays, snails, star fish, etc.. I was quite impressed as I didn't expect to see much there. My camera had malfunctioned on this trip if not I would post some pics.. It was pretty to sit back and watch the barracudas feed of the schools of small bait fish there.

This was all yards from the beach

Ron Reefman
08/12/2015, 05:42 AM
Chris, thanks a lot for jumping in and sharing your experience in the Keys.

In all the times my wife and I have been snorkeling in the area, we never really considered going off Sombrero Beach. We've walked the beach a couple of times, but never snorkeled there. So next time we go, probably in late Sept or Oct, we will give Sombrero Beach a try.

I hope if you ever get back to the Keys some of the info we've shared here can make your experience more enjoyable.

chrisqueenz
08/12/2015, 06:39 AM
It has already! We love the Keys and try to make it down as much as we can, my parents live in Hallendale FL so we escape to the Keys quite often. I am always looking for a lively spot to snorkel, so this thread has been extremely insightful for me.

G_Sanab922
08/12/2015, 01:51 PM
Sargassum shrimp I caught.

Ron Reefman
08/15/2015, 06:25 AM
Just for fun, here is my photoshop version of the Flagler Railroad Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park that was taken out at Little Bahia Honda Key. The bridge really does have the missing section, but I removed the US-1 car bridge out from the background. It was too distracting.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/BahiaHondaRRbridgeR2_zpsdfa467d4.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/BahiaHondaRRbridgeR2_zpsdfa467d4.jpg.html)


Here is one of my favorite pics, a Flamingo Tongue. Just for those who don't know, this snail lives exclusively on Gorgonians and the great looking colors aren't the shell. The shell is very plain vanilla off white. The great look you see is the snail's mantle that it stretches out and cover the shell. And for info purposes, don't try collecting a Flamingo Tongue to put in your aquarium unless you have a lot of Gorgonian corals already there. It's the only thing they eat.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Flamingo%20Tongue%20R3_zpspa479kgp.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Flamingo%20Tongue%20R3_zpspa479kgp.jpg.html)

water is wet
08/17/2015, 12:09 PM
Ron that is exactly the area we spent most of our time when we were at Bahia Honda except much closer to shore. And that picture was taken from little Bahia Honda? That doesn't seem very far at all.

Ron Reefman
08/18/2015, 10:39 PM
Little Bahia Honda Key is about a 1/4 mile off the beach. Quite a few people rent a kayak at the park and take it out there, but not many of them do it to get out there and snorkel. For as close to shore as it is, it's pretty pristine.

AWD
08/19/2015, 02:16 PM
I saw your posts about snorkeling the keys. I go down there occasionally. I usually fly into key west and go up to big pine. I had no idea that there was so much to see so close. I'd like some pointers, if you don't mind, for the next time I'm down that way.

I was hoping to PM you, but my phone said you are not set up for that or it's something on my end.

Ron Reefman
08/20/2015, 07:49 AM
I saw your posts about snorkeling the keys. I go down there occasionally. I usually fly into key west and go up to big pine. I had no idea that there was so much to see so close. I'd like some pointers, if you don't mind, for the next time I'm down that way.

I was hoping to PM you, but my phone said you are not set up for that or it's something on my end.

I've been on probation here for what seems like 2 years or more and they won't let me off. So no PM. Some people do get to me by email, I'm guessing it's in my personal info and I can't even see that myself.

That said, I'd be happy to help in any way I can here. And it's possible others may benefit from the discussion as well.

If you want to see big coral reefs, you need to take a boat out 5 miles. It's very cool if you haven't seen a big reef before (and even if you have). I still do it once every year or two.

But I have more fun looking for other things than huge coral colonies and big schools of tropical fish. I like to snorkel where I can handle rocks, corals, inverts and more. We (my wife and I) take a ton of photos every time we go out and I collect one or two things to take home to my aquarium. We live 4-5 hours from the Middle Keys and we transport them home in a 7 gallon cooler with a bubbler. It's rare that we ever lose an animal. But the real fun for us is just being so up close and personal so we can see things in more detail. At the big reefs, as a snorkeler, you are lucky if you can dive down 10', 15' or more and see things, but you can't touch because it is protected. Shallow, inshore rocky areas can be flush with stuff to see.

That's my outlook, so now you know where I'm coming from. So ask a question or 2 or 3 and I'll do my best to try and help. And BTW, there are others here that will help as well.

This is the beach at Bahia Honda State Park. There is plenty to see just out past the end of the sandy bottom. And at low tide you can get 300 yards or more off the beach and still be in water that is only 5' to 6' deep. The island off shore is Little Bahia Honda Key. Don't try to swim there, the tides really rip through the area 75% of the time. But you can rent a kayak at the park and paddle out there, beach the kayak and go snorkeling, then paddle back to shore.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/beach%20to%20Little%20Bahia%20Honda%20Key%20P7140255_zpshwy7vxkm.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/beach%20to%20Little%20Bahia%20Honda%20Key%20P7140255_zpshwy7vxkm.jpg.html)


You move slowly and keep a sharp look out. See the horse conch in the sand?
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Horse%20conch%20on%20bottom%20P7130235_zpsd1di3qbg.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Horse%20conch%20on%20bottom%20P7130235_zpsd1di3qbg.jpg.html)

Well, it was having lunch.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Horse%20conch%20at%20mealtime%20P7130238_zpsbeph9x0z.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Horse%20conch%20at%20mealtime%20P7130238_zpsbeph9x0z.jpg.html)

Here are some zoas I collected. There were 2 of us and we took the max number of polyps allowed (5 per person per day) and grew them out in my frag tank at home.
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P3290389R1%20Little%20Money%20zoas_zpspyvxrf5o.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P3290389R1%20Little%20Money%20zoas_zpspyvxrf5o.jpg.html)

This is at a little island about 75 yards from shore on the Florida Bay side of Marathon. We do swim over a deep channel, but the water around the island is 2' to 3' deep. You can tell it wasn't lobster season because they weren't afraid!
http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/A%20cave%20full%20of%20lobsters_zpsmwtxmbwg.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/A%20cave%20full%20of%20lobsters_zpsmwtxmbwg.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
08/20/2015, 09:24 AM
No wonder you didn't reply to my PM haha.
And yea you won't find any rock with that many lobster now, you'll be lucky to spot 1-2 under a rock. lol

chrisqueenz
08/20/2015, 08:03 PM
Cool pics!

Ron Reefman
08/22/2015, 05:17 AM
No wonder you didn't reply to my PM haha.
And yea you won't find any rock with that many lobster now, you'll be lucky to spot 1-2 under a rock. lol

Yeah, I don't know what I have to do to get off probation. It's been almost 2 years. And I don't work for the company I was 'shilling' for when they put me on probation. I've asked a couple times but all I've ever gotten back was a "not yet" about 3 months ago.

Cool pics!

Thanks. My wife takes most of them. The Olympus TG-1 Tough camera works well as a snorkel camera. Good to 45 feet and has a bigger lens by 1 f-stop than the other brands of tough cameras. So it lets in more light and allows for faster shutter speeds.


Tunicates are cool, but I understand they are near impossible to keep in an aquarium.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/tunicate%20P7140242_zpsafb2ph1t.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/tunicate%20P7140242_zpsafb2ph1t.jpg.html)


Damsel fish are always willing to get right in your face when you get near their territory.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/damsel%20close%20up%20P7140166_zpss4yaffyo.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/damsel%20close%20up%20P7140166_zpss4yaffyo.jpg.html)


Some of these sponges get pretty big even in near the beach.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/barrel%20sponge%20P7130265_zpsd8t44i0e.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/barrel%20sponge%20P7130265_zpsd8t44i0e.jpg.html)

water is wet
08/23/2015, 09:42 AM
Where is a good place to buy snorkeling gear?

Ron Reefman
08/23/2015, 10:06 AM
Any dive shop. We buy most of our gear online except for the mask. That's a critical fit, IMHO, so I need to try on at least 4 or 5 before I pull the trigger and buy. But they last for years and years even with regular use. But fins, snorkel, gloves, dive skins (sun protection even in 80 degree water) and wet suits (thermal protection in cooler water) are all cheaper online.

If you aren't doing this regularly or are really on a budget, consider a long sleeve t-shirt and light weight pants (nylon wind breaker pants work pretty well). Even cheap gloves will work.

There is a Divers Direct shop on Key Largo and we do stop in there occasionally for odds and ends. It's a huge store and they have almost anything a snorkeler could want. Last time there my friend got a fish net that has black netting and a clear bottom which makes it easier to trick fish and shrimp into it. He also got a small Hawaiian sling spear for getting lionfish. BTW, the next day he collected 5 lionfish about 15' from the end of the 'Horseshoe' or Flagler's quarry pit on the Florida bayside of Spanish Harbor Key (one south of Bahia Honda).

G_Sanab922
08/24/2015, 06:58 AM
Regarding the gear, if you stop by any local dive shop (not a big retail chain like diver's direct), if you buy a lot of different gear you can deal with them for a better price. That's what I did a couple years ago when I bought 2 pneumatic spearguns and 2 Hawaiian slings.
Don't get me wrong, diver's direct is a great place to shop, if you are new and want to see everything there is in the diving world ( when you get there it's like a playground with all the cool advanced gadgets they have).
I usually go there for specific hard to find items because I know they will have it guaranteed and I usually need it the day I go out so don't have time to look on the internet.

Ron Reefman
08/25/2015, 06:13 AM
And before you go shopping for a mask (don't buy it online unless you have tried it on at a dive shop) look up fitting a snorkel mask (or dive mask) on google. There is a lot of info out there and getting a good fit is probably the most important thing to making snorkeling a pleasant experience. A leaky mask and a nose full of saltwater just isn't comfortable to most people.

water is wet
08/27/2015, 05:19 PM
So it looks like we'll be heading down around the 22nd of September and staying until the12th of October . I don't mind seeing a lot of storms but I'm hoping to miss any hurricanes. I honestly think it would be cool to be there during one but not while on vacation.

We are staying in Miami or somewhere close by for the first couple of nights. Any suggestions on pet friendly hotels for a fair price? I'd be willing to drive a couple hours for it.

Thanks

G_Sanab922
08/28/2015, 07:36 AM
Yea it's only cool when you throw a hurricane party lol.
For real you don't want it on vacation because they give mandatory evacuations for non-residents. But honestly our building code is very strict here and I feel a lot more safe down here than on the mainland lol
I hope it doesn't storm much for you because the past week it's been thunderstorms all day long. Which is very uncommon. Usually Florida weather is bipolar and one sec it's sunny then for 10 mins it'll rain cats and dogs, then it will get sunny again. But now it's just been non-stop.
Regarding hotels, where do you plan to stay? Miami or the keys? What do you want to see the most ?

Ron Reefman
08/28/2015, 07:37 AM
In Miami or in the Keys?

We use Blackfin Resort in Marathon. It isn't a resort, it's kind of a mom & pop motel. It's fairly priced by Keys standards (not cheap but less than the Holiday Inn). We get an efficiency because there is a bit more room, in bad weather or if tired we can cook in the room and it's away from all the units that share a common hallway where some people party too late into the evening/night for us old timers! It's not fancy, but it's clean. It has a nice pool. It has an itsy bitsy super small sort of beach. There is an island 100 yards off shore that is worth snorkeling (we do it as a check our equipment and water temperature test when we arrive). And there are some cool things even in the rocks at the marina exit and around on the west side of the peninsula 'beach' like lobsters, crabs,feather dusters, sponges and tropical fish. We take bagels, fruit and coffee out to the beach and have breakfast in the morning. They have a nice table under a thatch roof and it seems nobody else does breakfast out there. We find it very peaceful. They have grills out there as well and some do cook dinner out there.

They have a boat ramp and a small marina if you want to keep your boat in the water. We take our boat to other ramps which makes the commute to snorkel locations by boat shorter. They have a scuba dive boat operator, Tilden, next door and their boats are in the same little marina. A restaurant, the Hurricane, is also next door and other amenities are close by. Bahia Honda State Park and the Horseshoe are just over the Seven Mile bridge from the motel.

So it isn't fancy at all, but we basically only sleep there, the rest of the time we are out in the water or seeing other sights.

G_Sanab922
08/28/2015, 07:44 AM
In Miami or in the Keys?

We use Blackfin Resort in Marathon. It isn't a resort, it's kind of a mom & pop motel. It's fairly priced by Keys standards (not cheap but less than the Holiday Inn). We get an efficiency because there is a bit more room, in bad weather or if tired we can cook in the room and it's away from all the units that share a common hallway where some people party too late into the evening/night for us old timers! It's not fancy, but it's clean. It has a nice pool. It has an itsy bitsy super small sort of beach. There is an island 100 yards off shore that is worth snorkeling (we do it as a check our equipment and water temperature test when we arrive). And there are some cool things even in the rocks at the marina exit and around on the west side of the peninsula 'beach' like lobsters, crabs,feather dusters, sponges and tropical fish. We take bagels, fruit and coffee out to the beach and have breakfast in the morning. They have a nice table under a thatch roof and it seems nobody else does breakfast out there. We find it very peaceful. They have grills out there as well and some do cook dinner out there.

They have a boat ramp and a small marina if you want to keep your boat in the water. We take our boat to other ramps which makes the commute to snorkel locations by boat shorter. They have a scuba dive boat operator, Tilden, next door and their boats are in the same little marina. A restaurant, the Hurricane, is also next door and other amenities are close by. Bahia Honda State Park and the Horseshoe are just over the Seven Mile bridge from the motel.

So it isn't fancy at all, but we basically only sleep there, the rest of the time we are out in the water or seeing other sights.

Lol Ron, same thing I was thinking, a mom and pop motel.
I was going to say if he wanted to stay in the keys try finding a small vacation rental (most allow pets).
Thing with Miami is that if you want to be in a nice area you will pay a hefty price and don't think there are many pet friendly places, plus you are far from the keys and key west will be a less of an option for you to visit. I think marathon or even Islamorada is a good place because it's in the middle. Not far from Mainland to see different things for a day and lots of fishing/snorkeling/diving nearby.

Ron Reefman
08/28/2015, 03:16 PM
Others in Marathon that we have used and I would consider as acceptable alternatives are Kingsail and Sea Dell. Again, not fancy, but clean mom & pop type motels and all within a mile or two of each other on Marathon. We just like the off shore island, the boat ramp and the 'sorta' beach at Blackfin.

water is wet
09/01/2015, 06:32 AM
We ended up booking with Bayview inn and marina for 2 weeks. The last time we stayed at rainbow bend but thought we should try some place different this time. We were going to stay closer to Miami for a couple of days but with it being roughly a 2 hour drive from where we'll be staying I decided I'd rather do drive a couple of hours and stay where we'll be happiest.

G_Sanab922
09/01/2015, 07:56 AM
We ended up booking with Bayview inn and marina for 2 weeks. The last time we stayed at rainbow bend but thought we should try some place different this time. We were going to stay closer to Miami for a couple of days but with it being roughly a 2 hour drive from where we'll be staying I decided I'd rather do drive a couple of hours and stay where we'll be happiest.

Very nice, that's right by Long Key State Park. They have nice beaches there too.

Ron Reefman
09/02/2015, 05:22 AM
Looks like a nice motel. We've never stayed there so it would be great to get a review from you after you stay there.

Any 'I absolutely have too do items' on your list for your vacation?

If you get a day of bad weather, hey it happens almost everywhere, consider the History of Diving Museum. It's back up the road a ways, but we've been there twice and it was very interesting. The diving helmet exhibit was awesome! An incredible array of helmets and with the push of a button there is a great 15 minute lecture that spotlights groups and specific helmets to explain the history. If I remember correctly the curator told us the helmets in the display were worth several million dollars!

Ron Reefman
09/04/2015, 05:47 AM
We just decided to do another Keys snorkel trip during the first week of November. Exact dates aren't set yet, but vacation time with the wife's employer has been locked in. I'm guessing a day to drive down and do a 'test' snorkel. At least 2, maybe 3 snorkel days and then a day to drive home.

Probably looking at the Middle Keys again. Would like to do Money Key and Molasses Key (both are oceanside of the Seven Mile Bridge toward the SW end. I'd like to do Pigeon Key as well, but that may be asking a lot of my wife's nerves. She loves to snorkel, but she isn't a fan of getting too far from shore in an inflatable boat! Haha!

G_Sanab922
09/04/2015, 08:41 AM
She loves to snorkel, but she isn't a fan of getting too far from shore in an inflatable boat! Haha!

:lolspin: I don't blame her.. :wildone:

Went out on the boat after work on a Monday. Would've filmed underwater but it was already sunset and too dark. Enjoy the view at least :)

water is wet
09/04/2015, 09:33 AM
The museum is a great idea thanks! One thing I wanted to do was go to that little aquarium we seen down there that did indoor scuba. I think it would be a great way to get comfortable diving without having to get certified first as scuba is something we'd like to do by next year.

Any other suggestions? We don't mind driving even if it means leaving the keys.

Awesome pics G_Sanab922!

kaxt
09/04/2015, 11:35 AM
Great thread! I'll be visiting The Keys in January and have been looking into places to snorkel. My brother and I have both started reef tanks since the last time we were there (probably 10+ years ago). We have enjoyed snorkeling in the past but we are really excited to get back in the water now that we will actually know what we are looking at. I'm going to re-read the thread and take notes for our trip. Thanks for the tips, guys!

G_Sanab922
09/04/2015, 11:59 AM
The museum is a great idea thanks! One thing I wanted to do was go to that little aquarium we seen down there that did indoor scuba. I think it would be a great way to get comfortable diving without having to get certified first as scuba is something we'd like to do by next year.

Any other suggestions? We don't mind driving even if it means leaving the keys.

Awesome pics G_Sanab922!

Yea I agree the museum is nice. I recommend Florida Key Aquarium Encounters, look it up it's pretty nice. It's in marathon so you'll be close.
I haven't gone to it yet but many love it, Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. And in the area there is the home of Ernest Hemingway (small museum). If you have some money to spend there is a ferry that takes you to Dry Tortugas National park where you can see the Fort Jefferson and much more (~$150 per person I think).
Feel free to say what you are interested in and i'll try to come up with stuff.

Thanks !

Ron Reefman
09/06/2015, 04:18 AM
The Dry Tortugas trip is $170 for adults and $125 for kids under 16. We went early in 2014 and now plan to go back. But next time we'll camp out there overnight. If you take your snorkeling seriously (as in, you want to do a lot of it) and you want to do a good tour of Fort Jefferson, there just isn't enough time during a one day trip. You arrive at the island between 10 and 10:30am and leave at 3pm. We did the serious snorkeling and had a ball, but we didn't get to see nearly enough of the fort. We probably could have spent the entire 5 hours walking the fort and learning the history. BTW, just snorkeling around the pilings there in front of the fort is a great spot. But there are several good coral heads further out from the island and still just 3 or 4 feet deep.

The next time we go, all I ask is that we go on a near new moon night and have no clouds, so it's most likely going to be between Nov and April to have a good shot and no clouds. I've got to believe that being 70+ miles from Key West will make for a staggeringly beautiful Milky Way view stretched out over the sky!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Fort%20Jefferson%20from%20the%20boat%20P7090454R1_zpsqjhpxdec.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Fort%20Jefferson%20from%20the%20boat%20P7090454R1_zpsqjhpxdec.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/fort%20from%20snorkel%20view%20P7090096%202R1_zpstmaqm2yy.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/fort%20from%20snorkel%20view%20P7090096%202R1_zpstmaqm2yy.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/sea%20fan%20P7090435R1_zpsfm0yp20w.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/sea%20fan%20P7090435R1_zpsfm0yp20w.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/mix%20of%20coral%20P7090413R1_zpsk5jrrlac.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/mix%20of%20coral%20P7090413R1_zpsk5jrrlac.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P7090094R2_zpse2ulz3di.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P7090094R2_zpse2ulz3di.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
09/06/2015, 04:35 AM
Great thread! I'll be visiting The Keys in January and have been looking into places to snorkel. My brother and I have both started reef tanks since the last time we were there (probably 10+ years ago). We have enjoyed snorkeling in the past but we are really excited to get back in the water now that we will actually know what we are looking at. I'm going to re-read the thread and take notes for our trip. Thanks for the tips, guys!

January is a good time as the weather is almost always good. Although, as a long time Florida resident now, I find the water to be more than just chilly in Dec thru March. But for New Jersey guys, you'll probably find it just refreshingly cool. Ha ha!

Ask questions if you want more info about anything.

Are you looking to see the big reefs by charter boat or shallow reefs off the beach? And there are shallow reefs with great things to see and there are shallow snorkel locations where it isn't so much what you see as it is what you can find to play with (the Horseshoe on Spanish Harbor Key). And I can't recommend stronly enough, if you want a good place to see things while doing an 'off the beach' snorkel, Bahia Honda State Park. And renting a Kayak to get out 1/4 mile off shore to Little Bahia Honda Key to snorkel can be very worth the effort.

kaxt
09/10/2015, 12:58 PM
We will definitely be visiting Bahia Honda State Park. I was probably 7 the first time I went there, it was also the first time I ever went snorkeling and I was in complete awe- I've been hooked ever since.

We would like to check out a little of everything- we will probably be bring our kayaks down, and we also plan to rent a boat for at least part of the time we are there so we won't be limited in our ability to get anywhere.

It would also be cool to be able to collect a few snails and such to bring home. We will be staying in a camper and there has already been talk about setting up a temporary aquarium on the kitchen table or in the bathtub (shh, don't tell my brother-in-law). My brother has already built a slurp gun, and we have a sponge filter that we plan to throw in a sump a month or so in advance so that we can get bacteria established.

G_Sanab922
09/10/2015, 01:15 PM
Very nice, kayaks is a great idea.

Since you plan on renting a boat , I recommend doing some Spanish mackerel fishing. I drive my boat down to that area in the winter to catch them. So if you feel confident driving a boat and want to fish I recommend going for mackerel. It's in the Florida bay so you don't have to worry about large waves even when it's windy. Just make sure you have everything you need and primarily your licenses.
Regarding licenses, you'll need it anyways if you plan on collecting. Here's a link for regulations of aquarium species.
http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/aquarium-species/
The site is easy to navigate so you can find game fish regulations as well and purchase your recreational saltwater fishing/collecting license online. I do it often for guests when I take them out.

Ron Reefman
09/11/2015, 04:44 AM
If the weather is good you can easily kayak out to Little Bahia Honda Key from shore (maybe 1/4 mile).

From the boat ramp at the end of the SW end of the Seven Mile Bridge you can easily get to Little Money Key (Florida Bay side of the bridge and 1/4 mile)
Or to Money Key on the ocean side of the bridge and is much better snorkeling (1 mile from the boat ramp)

If you are really adventurous, Molasses Key is on the ocean side of the bridge (about 2 miles from the boat ramp). And I'm still working on getting my wife to let me take her there in an 11' Zodiac with a 20hp outboard!

Pigeon Key is 2 miles out from the NE end of the bridge, where the Railroad Museum is. We haven't been snorkeling there yet, but we walked out the old bridge and looked down from above and I can tell you I want to go. Again, my wife isn't a fan of small boats, open water or outboard motors!

Bahia Honda probably does as good a deal as anybody with their charter boat out to Looe Key and the big reef. It's a really big area and the bottom is row after row of long ridges (hills) so water depth varies from near zero in some spots at low tide to about 15'-20' in the valleys at high tide.

"We will be staying in a camper and there has already been talk about setting up a temporary aquarium on the kitchen table or in the bathtub (shh, don't tell my brother-in-law)."
We take a big cooler and set it up in our motel room with a 120 volt bubbler to keep live stock. And I do a 50% water change every morning and every evening. I even take a small heater because at 72 degrees the room temp air going through the bubbler cools the water down pretty quickly.

Are you camping at Bahia Honda or some place else?

kaxt
09/11/2015, 10:17 AM
Thanks G Sanab, and Ron! I'm getting really excited, getting all these tips from the locals is awesome.

We will definitely be going after some mackerel while we are there.

We didn't realize how quickly the RV campsites get booked up for January and we ended up having to take what we could find. We will be spending the first 5 nights in Key West at Boyd's, and our last 3 nights in Grassy Key. So we will have to do some driving to get to some of these places, but that's okay by me. We where originally looking to be somewhere in the Sugarloaf area but that didn't work out. All the other times I've been down there we have stayed at the Gulfview Waterfront Resort, it's kinda funny that we tried to go somewhere different and ended up being literally right next door to where we have always gone.

Ron Reefman
09/12/2015, 05:05 AM
Well my wife and I don't get down to Key West very often at all. So anything you find in the way of entertainment, sites to see (the local aquarium) or interesting sites to snorkel will be very much appreciated. I think there are several worthwhile 'big' reef sites down that way and more than a few snorkel charters.

Grassy Key is just at the north end on Vayca Key (where the city of Marathon is located). So drives to spots we do will be a snap from there. Besides, every drive over the Seven Mile Bridge is worth the trip!

G_Sanab922
09/14/2015, 08:21 AM
So Ron, looks like I'm going to Bahia Honda lol. Will be there in two weeks just for one night. My friend is bringing his flats boat. Going to take my gopro so will upload the good stuff I find. :)

Ron Reefman
09/15/2015, 06:17 AM
So Ron, looks like I'm going to Bahia Honda lol. Will be there in two weeks just for one night. My friend is bringing his flats boat. Going to take my gopro so will upload the good stuff I find. :)

Cool. We're going the first week in November, exact dates to be determined.

Consider going out from the boat ramp at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge and over to Money Key (1 mile) just off the ocean side. We only played for 90 minutes and never got more than 100' away from the boat! We were mostly on the south southwest side of the island. Not much in gorgonians, buts lots of cool critters... especially under the rocks.

Have fun where ever and we look forward to your video or photos.

icy1155
09/18/2015, 09:32 AM
If you are staying at Grassy Key and want to do a local snorkel, try looking up slack tide (time between high and low or low and high) and then going to the bridge on the east end of Grassy Key. If you park in the lot and cross the road (it can be a little busy, so make sure you wait and don't get hit...), there are some fairly deep (6-8ft) boulders that generally have some interesting fish and inverts. The current can really get ripping sometimes, so slack tide is the best for there, but its really close to where you are staying and no boat is required.

We have collected a few times there and you can find some neat stuff if you get up close and aren't afraid of sticking your head under rocks. FWC does like to visit there though, so make sure your licenses are in order and you keep within your limits. Never had a problem with them since we always ensure we are legal, just FYI.

Depending on where you will be taking the boat I can probably give you some suggestions for other areas to try snorkeling or collecting if you have a GPS. We spent quite a bit of time down in Big Pine last month, and got to do some exploring.

icy1155
09/18/2015, 09:38 AM
Ron, before you guys head down there again, hit me up on swfmas. I have the coordinates to some nice patch reefs 3/4mi off of BPK you would like and are in easy reach of your zodiac. Kel and I kayaked from shore out to most of them. Also, if you guys want to dive we found a really nice dive site in about 30'-40' of water where the reef rises to about 15' pretty quickly. Makes for a nice wall and you can see some neat stuff out there, and it's only about a mile from shore. I don't like posting coordinates on an open forum, but if anyone else is interested PM me and I'm happy to share.

water is wet
09/19/2015, 01:15 PM
Anyone see any reason not to purchase one of these to use when we are down there? http://www.hobiecat.com/mirage/mirage-tandem-island/

Very excited as we've decided to leave Monday instead of later in the week. Thanks everyone for your input it will make this trip even better than our first.

Ron thank you for sharing those pics of the Dry Tortugas that is now at the top of our list.

acropora213
09/19/2015, 11:44 PM
Thank you so much for this awesome, fun, informative thread.
I'm just tagging along.
Looks like I have a new spot to visit on my next drive!

I'm in Tampa Bay, and miss my annual keys trips.
I think we may before this "season" starts.

What's a cost effective bungalow or motel for a night by this Bahia Honda ?

Ron Reefman
09/20/2015, 06:03 AM
Anyone see any reason not to purchase one of these to use when we are down there? http://www.hobiecat.com/mirage/mirage-tandem-island/

Very excited as we've decided to leave Monday instead of later in the week. Thanks everyone for your input it will make this trip even better than our first.

Ron thank you for sharing those pics of the Dry Tortugas that is now at the top of our list.

The trimaran looks like fun. And it works well as an alternative activity. That is, when there is no wind it's the best time to snorkel and sailing is pointless. When it is windy it's the best time to sail and snorkeling is crappy because visibility is a problem!

And if you go to the Dry Tortugas, be prepared to relax on a long boat ride each way. And I hope you get the kind of really calm water we had!

I'm looking forward to hearing about your trip.

Thank you so much for this awesome, fun, informative thread.
I'm just tagging along.
Looks like I have a new spot to visit on my next drive!

I'm in Tampa Bay, and miss my annual keys trips.
I think we may before this "season" starts.

What's a cost effective bungalow or motel for a night by this Bahia Honda ?

There are a variety of places to stay in the area. We like Marathon because it's close and there are all the amenities, restaurants, grocery stores, hardware stores, dive shops, other sites to visit. But there are cool places elsewhere. We stayed at a B&B on Big Pine Key called the Binnacle. It has serious pluses and minuses. They have a very... cute... quaint... unusual... room called the 'crow's nest' which we liked. But if it's hot outside, the A/C in that room isn't close to good enough. But it has a half inside, half outside shower stall that looks out over the beach and ocean! But their beach seems to always have a ton of seaweed in the water (like right from shore out 50 feet into the water).

If you are looking for inexpensive places to stay, my recommendations would be:
Blackfin Resort & Marina
Kingsail
Sea Dell

They are all about the same price (inexpensive as prices in the Keys go). And you need to pay attention to the time of year (or ask the motel). If it's lobster season, power boat race week, mini lobster season, or some other big event, prices go up. They also go up late Fall thru early Spring which is the snowbird season. But late Spring and all of the Fall are our favorite times because the water is warm enough, the weather is good (less afternoon thunderstorms and less risk of hurricanes) and less people!

All 3 motels are mom & pop type places, not chains like Holiday Inn. I think all 3 have their own websites so you can see them in photos. They are all a bit 'homey' meaning the rooms are clean and comfortable, but the amenities may be a bit older. They all have nice pools. Blackfin and Kingsail have docks for boats, I think only Blackfin has a boat ramp on the property and is the only one with a tiny 'beach' and a swimming area. We stay at the Blackfin and use an efficiency. They are a bit away from the other rooms, quieter, and closer to the swimming area and cost a bit more. We always swim/snorkel out the 100 yards to the small island just out from the mouth of the marina. It's not spectacular snorkeling, but if you look around you can see lobsters, juvenile tropical fish, feather dusters, anemones and sponges. We make that our first 'in the water' event of our visit to see how warm the water is so we know how to suit up for the next days more serious (much longer) snorkel.

If you have any questions, please ask. My wife and I love snorkeling the shallows near shore and we'd like to make your experience as much fun as possible, so I'm happy to offer any advise I can. Between her photos and my collecting, we always have fun. And if the weather is bad (windy) and snorkeling visibility is bad, there are lots of other sites to see.

Here is a marked up Google Earth map of the Blackfin Resort and the little snorkel island:

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Blackfin%20Resort%20copy_zps0jsik7mh.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Blackfin%20Resort%20copy_zps0jsik7mh.jpg.html)

acropora213
09/20/2015, 08:21 AM
Nice !! That's perfect !

Thanks for all the insight. Just what the doctor ordered.
I've dove a lot of the middle keys, but my lady is starting to get into my hobbies
Much more and she's willing to get her feet wet, so to speak :0)

Which is great, as now I can I least snorkel the shallows with her and blow her
minds experiences until she's ready for a bit of diving.

Today is my big 40, betcha can't guess where I was waking right now :0)

Ron Reefman
09/20/2015, 12:28 PM
Congrats on the big 40 and on getting your... girlfriend, significant other, wife... whatever, into the water.

I love snorkeling with my wife. She has great eyes and sees more cool stuff than I do. In fact, I love snorkeling and I think she loves it even more than I do! But the aquariums are my hobby, she just enjoys looking. Her hobby is the yard/garden/lanai. Fifteen years ago our yard was 99% grass, not it's 75-80% gardens and trees and only 20-25% grass.

This is 15 years ago, just after I laid the patio.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/backyard%20looking%20east_zpspxikpbyx.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/backyard%20looking%20east_zpspxikpbyx.jpg.html)



Basically the same shot taken just inside the line of Washingtonia Palm trees in the first pic.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P8010031R1_zpspsiunplb.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P8010031R1_zpspsiunplb.jpg.html)

acropora213
09/20/2015, 04:25 PM
Lordy that's gorgeous. I'm sure you have some nice finds in the shallows around your house too!

Bout an hour south of Venice ?

I've taken the catamaran trip from there down to key west.

Ron Reefman
09/21/2015, 05:35 AM
My wife says "Thanks." She started with some plants and then we did some serious butterfly gardening. Now we have butterflies buzzing around like this was O'Hare Airport at rush hour! Then it was bromeliads, and then tillandsias (air plants) and now it's orchids.

And I sell corals to club members and on Craigslist, she gives away cuttings as much as she can or else they get thrown away! We have about 10 or 12 volunteer Bismark Palm trees (new starts that are just 8"-12" tall) that cost good money at the nursery. And lots of bromeliad pups (she has between 30 and 40 different species growing in the yard). And cactus cuttings, and... well, you get the idea.

If you ever want to drive down and take home a load of plants, just let me know! And yes, we are about an hour south of Venice, just west of Fort Myers. And I'm serious about giving away plants!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P8010004R1_zpse55d1502.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P8010004R1_zpse55d1502.jpg.html)


Here are 3 freshly hatched Zebra Longwing butterflies. They like shady areas and last year was the first time in 15 years we had any in our yard. Now we see them fairly regularly along with 6 to 8 other species.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P8080003R2_zps74a207bf.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P8080003R2_zps74a207bf.jpg.html)

And this is not an ordinary pineapple. It's about 4/5ths the size of a dole, more red outside, almost white inside and just enough more tart than a 'normal' pineapple to make it interestingly different.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P8010010R1_zps2816643b.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P8010010R1_zps2816643b.jpg.html)


OK, back to discussion of the Keys (sorry about the side track).

G_Sanab922
09/21/2015, 07:32 AM
What's a cost effective bungalow or motel for a night by this Bahia Honda ?

Or you can throw up a tent in Bahia Honda for only $49 :)

Right now is the slow season so this will be the cheapest for motel/hotels/vacation rentals. It gets pricey from the end of October for the festivals and throughout the winter. And of course during the summer as well.

water is wet
09/21/2015, 07:54 PM
Bahia Honda is pretty much booked for at least the next year you'd be very lucky to get a site.

G_Sanab922
09/22/2015, 07:05 AM
Bahia Honda is pretty much booked for at least the next year you'd be very lucky to get a site.

I got one on the water, for next week. Tent only though.
Have to be flexible with the schedule as well and try to catch a cancellation.

BrandonFlorida
09/22/2015, 02:12 PM
Amazing photos and thanks to all that posts these amazing creatures.. Our oceans are beautiful...

water is wet
09/22/2015, 04:57 PM
I got one on the water, for next week. Tent only though.
Have to be flexible with the schedule as well and try to catch a cancellation.

Must be nice I checked a month ago and could only find a few days available for about a year out.

AWD
09/26/2015, 02:33 PM
Ron, I have a place in the keys that badly needs some of the stuff your wife is growing. Particularly the Bismarck has been on my wish list. How can I reach you. Can you PM me?

icy1155
09/28/2015, 08:55 AM
You might want to try PM'ing him on our local reef clubs website: www.swfmas.com/forum

G_Sanab922
09/29/2015, 12:14 PM
Went to Bahia Honda on Sunday just for one night. Unfortunately it was very murky and a storm hit us like at 7:30pm. It was definitely an event though and had fun with my friends before I get married this upcoming weekend.
The tent site I reserved was great! Definitely a must in the future, just need to plan it for a better time in the year. Don't think the future wife would like being in a tent during a storm.

Ron Reefman
10/01/2015, 04:48 AM
Ron, I have a place in the keys that badly needs some of the stuff your wife is growing. Particularly the Bismarck has been on my wish list. How can I reach you. Can you PM me?

You might want to try PM'ing him on our local reef clubs website: www.swfmas.com/forum

A) I was at Daytona Speedway all last week doing a photo shoot of the SCCA National Sports Car Championships. I'm back home and just getting caught up with everything. I should be around for the next few weeks.

B) I'm on probation here, mods just won't cut me a break as it's been 2 years! So I can't PM or access you profile info.

C) As icy1155 said, go to SWFMAS.com, register and then you can PM me or just start a thread, Ron Reefman (same as here).

We have lots of plants, wife has potted a few Bismark Palms and we have more volunteers we can try potting. I'll be heading down to the Keys early the first week in November. We could meet then?

I'm a Miata fan, but the Acura in 3rd is a friend of mine from Ohio and he ended up winning the race on the last lap!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P9260067%20R1_zpscghmr2vb.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P9260067%20R1_zpscghmr2vb.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
10/01/2015, 05:02 AM
G Sanab922, glad to hear you had a good time with friends at Bahia Honda. We've never camped there, but we are considering camping for a night at the Dry Tortugas before the rainy season starts up next May/June. We want to go when there is a new moon so we have as dark a sky as we can get. That would make for better viewing of the Milky Way stretched out across the entire sky.

And congratulations on getting married! I'm a big fan of marriage... I've done it 3 times! But then I'm my wife's 3rd husband as well. We met in 2000, dated for 4 years and have been married for over 10. They say the 3rd time is the charm, we've been together for 15 years in total now and we still haven't had a single argument. Not bad for 2 people who have 4 divorces between them! My advise is, "Don't sweat the small stuff, be very willing to compromise on the big stuff and let her know you love her EVERYDAY!" Best of luck to both of you! :beer:

G_Sanab922
10/01/2015, 10:56 PM
G Sanab922, glad to hear you had a good time with friends at Bahia Honda. We've never camped there, but we are considering camping for a night at the Dry Tortugas before the rainy season starts up next May/June. We want to go when there is a new moon so we have as dark a sky as we can get. That would make for better viewing of the Milky Way stretched out across the entire sky.

And congratulations on getting married! I'm a big fan of marriage... I've done it 3 times! But then I'm my wife's 3rd husband as well. We met in 2000, dated for 4 years and have been married for over 10. They say the 3rd time is the charm, we've been together for 15 years in total now and we still haven't had a single argument. Not bad for 2 people who have 4 divorces between them! My advise is, "Don't sweat the small stuff, be very willing to compromise on the big stuff and let her know you love her EVERYDAY!" Best of luck to both of you! :beer:

Dry Tortugas during a new moon is very nice. Definitely get some great shots of the milky way. Just be careful, if you sleep on the fort, there is a croc that lives there lol.. Would definitely love to see those pics.

Thanks Ron and i appreciate the advice. Like they say, "Happy Wife, Happy Life". For sure alot of compromises, when i get my fish room she can get her room full of shoes :lolspin: :fun2: :p ;)


Bahia Honda sunrise time lapse, short and sweet. This was after the storm and another one was coming in.

https://youtu.be/Ayzv23y42WQ

Ron Reefman
10/11/2015, 05:56 AM
Heading to the Keys for a few days of snorkeling in just 3 weeks and counting! I can't wait!

Ron Reefman
11/01/2015, 04:20 AM
Heading to the Keys on Monday. It looks like it's going to be a bit more windy than I would like, but we'll play do our best to work around the wind and possible visibility issues.

Hoping to meet up with AWL (post #87) on Tuesday.

We'll post some pics and thoughts while we are there.

AWD
11/01/2015, 04:09 PM
Likewise, I'll be there.

xkon
11/01/2015, 04:38 PM
Anyone snorkel at fort zachary taylor? I will be taking a cruise into key west this week and am thinking about trying some snorkeling there

Ron Reefman
11/02/2015, 04:24 AM
Anyone snorkel at fort zachary taylor? I will be taking a cruise into key west this week and am thinking about trying some snorkeling there

When we were there the water was incredibly clear, but the wind was very calm. It's well worth doing. Somewhere online we found a map of coral heads around the fort. But even if you just do the old coal dock pilings, it's good... and right off the beach!

We were there for the day and snorkeling was our main objective. But the fort is so cool, I want to go back and have more time (hard to do as you have to live by the charter boat schedule).

So we plan to do an over night camping trip next Spring (as close to a new moon as we can get). The other advantage (if we get a clear night) is a chance to see the Milky Way from as far south in the US as we can get. Being 70+ miles from the nearest lights is a real help for star gazing as well! And doing it early in the spring means getting to see some constellations to the south that we don't normally get to see in the US.


Pics from that trip:

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Fort%20Jefferson%20from%20the%20boat%20P7090454R1_zpsqjhpxdec.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Fort%20Jefferson%20from%20the%20boat%20P7090454R1_zpsqjhpxdec.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P7090094R2_zpse2ulz3di.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P7090094R2_zpse2ulz3di.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/sea%20fan%20P7090435R1_zpsfm0yp20w.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/sea%20fan%20P7090435R1_zpsfm0yp20w.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/seaplanethrupilingsP7090165R1_zps03fc7e36.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/seaplanethrupilingsP7090165R1_zps03fc7e36.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/fort%20from%20snorkel%20view%20P7090096%202R1_zpstmaqm2yy.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/fort%20from%20snorkel%20view%20P7090096%202R1_zpstmaqm2yy.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/mix%20of%20coral%20P7090413R1_zpsk5jrrlac.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/mix%20of%20coral%20P7090413R1_zpsk5jrrlac.jpg.html)

xkon
11/02/2015, 06:26 PM
I believe where you went is called dry tortugas? That is about 40 miles out and need a boat to get to correct? Would love to go there as I heard that is the spot to go, but a 2.5 hour trip each way is too much for what my time permits

I was looking at fort zachary taylor which is right off of the cruise pier

Ron Reefman
11/03/2015, 04:50 AM
My bad, I was in a rush. My eyes saw Fort and my brain went Dry Tortugas (Fort Jefferson). Sorry.

We arrived in the Keys yesterday (Fri afternoon) and the wind wasn't too bad. We have our fingers crossed for Tues and Wed.

G_Sanab922
11/03/2015, 09:02 AM
The wind has been whipping up over here. Hopefully it gets better but I doubt it, this time of year is when it gets windy.

aznflyfisherman
11/03/2015, 10:02 AM
Hi, i was wondering if anyone has this tank in white? If so how do you like and it and if you can post a picture with your setup. I was thinking about getting this with the ai prime. Thanks...

nogascans
11/03/2015, 03:47 PM
Anyone snorkel at fort zachary taylor? I will be taking a cruise into key west this week and am thinking about trying some snorkeling there

Its more of a beach park. It does have some breakwaters right off beach that are swimmable, but expect to see mainly fish here, not coral or patch reef. Great spot to "learn" someone snorkeling in a comfortable environment.

Sincerely,

David

Ron Reefman
11/04/2015, 06:39 AM
Tuesday was breezy, but I was willing to take out the Zodiac... unfortunately my wife wasn't, so we went to the 'Horseshoe' again as it's always got some area with calm water. This time we headed out far to the northeast, away from the Horseshoe to see what we would find. As we got further and further away, about 200+ yards, the grasses thinned out and we started to see more signs of small stony corals, small sponges and a surprising number of Condy anemones (given they are now on the protected list). At 300-400 yards we were getting toward the northeast end of the island, Spanish Harbor Key. There is a sea wall at that end and we swam up to take a close look... not much there except for some 1' to 2' Gorgonians. We headed back out from the sea wall a good distance and then turned back toward the Horseshoe. I collected a small sample of encrusting gorgonian, a 14" sample of a thick stem gorgonian, a large brown & white brittle star and a small pale blue serpent star. There were emerald crabs all over the place and a surprising percentage of them were the ruby Red variety. I collected one good size Ruby Red crab. I also found one quite small, bright yellow sea cucumber for my shallow reef tank. I know sponges can be very difficult to keep in home aquariums, but I want to try. So I collected a small orange and a small purple, both only a bit bigger than a 25 cent piece. Small sponges like that were everywhere among the stony finger coral.

The water was fairly shallow, 2' to as much as 4' in some spots. We were a bit surprised to see a couple of black, long spine urchins. They seem to favor the ocean side of the islands we snorkel off of. However, we were closer to the end of the island where the current flow is stronger at tide change, so maybe more like the environment on the ocean side. We were there just as high tide was starting to flow, but the current was hardly noticeable. The water was clear, it was mostly sunny and we had a good time.

We'll see what Wednesday brings (more wind) and we'll get to photos (Elaine's specialty) when we get home.

Ron Reefman
11/05/2015, 05:04 AM
Wednesday was considerably more windy, so we didn't use the Zodiac, in fact, we didn't even go snorkeling. We did go to Spanish Harbor Key again. The intention was to look for an easy way into the water on the other side of the island from the Horseshoe (the south side at the northeast end of the island). Last time we went there the rocky entry to the water was totally covered in seaweed so it was hard to see where to walk. This time the rocks were totally clear and even finding a path of higher, dry rocks around the tidal pools was easy. BTW, the tide pools were full of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of tiny black shell cerith snails. But the ESE wind was really stirring things up, so there was little point to getting in the water.

The Florida Parks & REc people have been busy in the area as well. There is now an asphalt path (bike path?) that goes down to the northeast end of the island and wraps around under the US-1 bridge and back over to the Horseshoe parking area. There is a cool foot bridge that runs up high along the side of the road, above the mangroves on that side. I'll post some photos when we get home.

We also considered putting the boat in at Bahia Honda's boat ramp and going to the northwest side (leeward) of the island. The Google map looks promising. We stopped at the end of the bridge and looked out that way. It may have been OK, but we decided to not get wet. However, we did note that there were an extremely high number of crab pots in a relatively small area just off that side of the island. That really makes me think that it could be worth a look next time we come down.

Deftones2015
11/05/2015, 05:37 PM
Beautiful pictures! How often do you go out?

Ron Reefman
11/06/2015, 06:15 AM
Beautiful pictures! How often do you go out?

Thanks for the kind words. My wife takes hundreds of pics every time we snorkel.

We try to get to the Keys 3 to 5 long weekends a year.

It's a 2 to 3 hour drive from home to Marathon in the Keys (depending on stops for various reasons). Typically, we drive down on Fri and do a short 'water temp test swim/snorkel' and then do a couple of snorkels on Sat and Sun if the weather is good (wind is the big issue as it makes waves which stirs up 'stuff' and reduces visiblity). Then we drive home on Mon.

Pics from this trip:

We saw quite a few larger stars and this harlequin brittle star really caught my attention.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB030134%20R1_zpsqwcv4sqi.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB030134%20R1_zpsqwcv4sqi.jpg.html)


Condy anemones are now protected from collection due to decreasing numbers. In the area NE from the Horseshoe we saw evidence that their numbers may be coming back. At one spot I could reach out and touch 6 of them. This was the most colorful one.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB030156%20R1_zpsozuhgrl8.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB030156%20R1_zpsozuhgrl8.jpg.html)


This is the view ENE from the Horseshoe. The area we spent most of our time at was out from the sea wall over toward the bridge. Google Earth can be helpful seeing the more interesting spots.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB030205%20R1_zpsquekp8m7.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB030205%20R1_zpsquekp8m7.jpg.html)


It seemed like every piece of rubble we picked up would have an Emerald or Rudy crab on it. Half the time they would run up my arm! This Ruby seemed particularly fond of my hand so he is now living in our 180g reef tank.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB030224%20R1_zpsqupv3e2y.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB030224%20R1_zpsqupv3e2y.jpg.html)


I've long been a fan of spaghetti worms, from the very small to the very big. Before I had a Wrasse I had some little ones in the 180g, but the Wrasse ate them. This one came out of it's 'parchment' tube (toward the lower left) and hung around for pics. Some day I'll give one of these a try in either our 65g shallow reef tank or our 65g hexagon Gorgonian tank.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB030232%20R1_zpsupvhqj6x.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB030232%20R1_zpsupvhqj6x.jpg.html)


I mentioned above some improvements Parks & Rec have made from the Horseshoe around the NE end of the island and over to the other side. This is a shot on the new foot bridge that stats at the parking lot and ends up at the sea wall we were snorkeling near.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040002%20R1_zpspk0vc4b2.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040002%20R1_zpspk0vc4b2.jpg.html)


This is the improvement around the other side, after walking along the sea wall under the US-1 and Flagler bridges.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040042%20R1_zps9d6rcdmy.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040042%20R1_zps9d6rcdmy.jpg.html)


If you walk along the asphalt path and then down to the water's edge, this is the view backe to the ENE. The rocky flats change with the tides and can become covered with sea weed. But this day it was totally clean. On calmer days the area out from shore here is interesting. Last time we snorkeled here (14 months ago) we saw lots of Gorgonians, but the walk over the rocky flats was a little more difficult as it was 3" to 6" deep in sea weed and we were unsure what was underneath.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040049%20R1_zpsrvfxe78j.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040049%20R1_zpsrvfxe78j.jpg.html)


The tidal pools were loaded with thousands of these tiny cerith snails. It was almost hard to avoid them when you walked.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040066%20R1_zpsdlg5b6da.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040066%20R1_zpsdlg5b6da.jpg.html)


Just a bit further SW and the rocky flats ends and a short course sand beach starts. But in just 50' the beach ends and a long sea wall starts.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040108%20R1_zpsdmukj8gb.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040108%20R1_zpsdmukj8gb.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
11/06/2015, 07:36 AM
Very nice pics as always. The weather looks pretty decent.

jaa1456
11/07/2015, 05:12 AM
I'm down in marathon now until Tuesday, I was looking for a good spot to go right in from the shore. I'm going to visit a few places now.

Ron Reefman
11/09/2015, 05:36 AM
Very nice pics as always. The weather looks pretty decent.

Temps and sun were great, a bit warm for Nov but that's OK. But the wind from the east was stirring things up, so we decided to take it easy and hunt for new sites.

I'm down in marathon now until Tuesday, I was looking for a good spot to go right in from the shore. I'm going to visit a few places now.

Please let us know how it goes. There are a number of really good sites you can hit right off the beach.

Ron Reefman
11/11/2015, 06:40 AM
Since we didn't snorkel on Wednesday, we went looking for some new places to snorkel. We found a couple that are not 'off the beach' easy, but still accessible and with some potential.

I spoke of this location in a previous post:
We also considered putting the boat in at Bahia Honda's boat ramp and going to the northwest side (leeward) of the island. The Google map looks promising. We stopped at the end of the bridge and looked out that way. It may have been OK, but we decided to not get wet. However, we did note that there were an extremely high number of crab pots in a relatively small area just off that side of the island. That really makes me think that it could be worth a look next time we come down.

It has occurred to me that anybody could rent a kayak at Bahia Honda State Park and it would be a short paddle around the southwest end of the island (I'd even say put the kayak in at the Florida Bay side beach). We will certainly check it out the next trip, but if anybody else gets a chance to go there before we do, lets us know what you find. And if you have a question about just where we are talking about, let me know and I'll do a map from Google Earth.

The other location we want to try is Pigeon Key. This is the island that is 2 miles out from the northeast end of the Seven Mile Bridge. You can walk out to Pigeon Key on the old Flagler Railroad Bridge and there is a Railroad Museum out there as well. Or you can take a ferry from the marina behind the old railroad car that is on the south side of US-1 just off the northeast end of the bridge. It's a gift shop and they sell tickets there. You can take the ferry out to Pigeon Key, snorkel there off the dock and take the ferry back when you are done. It runs on a regular schedule.

We have walked out to Pigeon Key on the Flagler Bridge and looked down on the area of reef flats that lie just off the edge (I wish I had photos). It looked pretty interesting from up on the bridge which is pretty high. We saw 2 big spotted rays digging conch out of the bottom and eating them. We also saw a huge barracuda (I consider them nearly harmless) and a medium size shark swim by as well. I couldn't tell what kind of shark it was from that height off the water, but it was about 6 feet long. It swam past the barracuda only a couple of feet apart and it was like they either didn't see each other, ignored each other, or didn't care about each other. Like two strangers passing each other on the sidewalk. Anyway, we have not snorkeled this location yet, but when we do, I'll let you know what we find. And if anybody has snorkeled the area, please tell us what you thought of it. I think the ferry and taking snorkelers out to the island has only been available for a year or two, since they had to shut down the 'shuttle' that could take people out to the island museum by way of the bridge.

A view of the Seven Mile Bridge from the northeast end looking southwest. That's the old Flagler Railroad bridge just off to the right.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040126_zpspbw262uy.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040126_zpspbw262uy.jpg.html)


Just for fun, a view out from under the bridge. If you look out to the horizon, that's Pigeon Key at the end of the Flagler bridge. You could probably hit it with a rock if you stopped along the side of the Seven Mile Bridge (which I would NOT recommend you do as traffic is pretty crazy on the bridge).

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/PB040123_zpsh6jg1sfc.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/PB040123_zpsh6jg1sfc.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
11/16/2015, 04:07 AM
I'm down in marathon now until Tuesday, I was looking for a good spot to go right in from the shore. I'm going to visit a few places now.

Any report about where you snorkeled, what you saw and how the conditions were? We all would like to hear from anybody who does any snorkeling in the Keys. Please don't be shy.:wave:

matt888
12/02/2015, 06:38 PM
Got to love the Keys! My wife and I recently bought a vacation home on Big Pine Key due to all of the water activities to enjoy. I'm an experienced freedive spearfisherman and between lobstering, stone crabbing, mahi and wahoo fishing/shooting... it's paradise. I do also keep my eyes open for marine life that is permitted to be collected. As mentioned above, rubies and emeralds are easily found under rocks in shallow areas. Rock flower anenomes can be found on the gulf side in 3-10' of water and in all kinds of colors. Ricordea can be found on the atlantic side on patch reefs in 25-40'. There are supposed to be scarlet hermits in the deeper areas of the reef (50' and deeper) but I have never spent much time looking for them.

Ron Reefman
12/03/2015, 06:52 AM
Hi Matt, thanks for adding your knowledge to the thread.

Since you are here at RC, I assume you have an aquarium somewhere? Like at home in west central Florida or at the vacation home in the Keys?

Don't be a stranger here. Then you get to do something interesting in the Keys, let us know. Even if it's a cool site to visit on land (like the Diving Museum) or even a good place to eat! We visit the Keys 4 to 6 times a year for 4 and 5 days at a time and we are always looking for new and interesting stuff to do. Of course, in the water stuff is always worth talking about!

matt888
12/06/2015, 06:09 PM
Hi Matt, thanks for adding your knowledge to the thread.

Since you are here at RC, I assume you have an aquarium somewhere? Like at home in west central Florida or at the vacation home in the Keys?

Don't be a stranger here. Then you get to do something interesting in the Keys, let us know. Even if it's a cool site to visit on land (like the Diving Museum) or even a good place to eat! We visit the Keys 4 to 6 times a year for 4 and 5 days at a time and we are always looking for new and interesting stuff to do. Of course, in the water stuff is always worth talking about!


Hi there. Yes, I have a 40g tank in the Tampa area. I had a 210g system for a few yrs packed with SPS, Ricordea, Clams but recently downsized due to an upcoming move closer to the Keys in 2016. Just had too much going on at once to keep maintaining a large system. One day I'll do another large tank again when I'm more settled in.
I had alot of flow in my large tank (great for the SPS) and that had a negative impact on my past collection of Ricordea. Sand would shift over the top of the Ric colonies and if left unchecked, would cause them to melt away! I still have about 30 Rics left and in my 40g now, but plan to pack that 40g over the next yr or two with more.
I'm sure you've heard of the Square Grouper restaurant near Cudjoe Key, but if not, get in there for a dinner!

Keep your eyes peeled for zoas on the Atlantic side in the rocky areas in 20-40'!

Ron Reefman
12/07/2015, 05:42 AM
Thanks for the restaurant tip. We don't get down that way very often (more in the Middle Keys), and I hadn't heard of it before. I think we'll give that a try next trip. What kind of place is it? A neighborhood hangout, good food at good prices, great food at slightly higher prices, casual as in shorts and T-shirt or casual as in pants and a nice shirt?

I hope some of the divers here can make use of your zoas at 20-40'. Personally, I can't get down more than about 10-15' free diving. But I am looking for new spots to see zoas since my old spot, Little Money Key, was over run with slimy algae last spring. We haven't been back there since. Hopefully it will recover like Little Bahia Honda Key did about 4 or 5 years ago.

I want to get out to Pigeon Key for some snorkeling on our next trip. I've never heard from anybody who has snorkeled there, but I've seen some of it from above when we walked out the old Flagler RR bridge. It looks pretty cool and fairly untouched.

matt888
12/07/2015, 06:35 PM
Thanks for the restaurant tip. We don't get down that way very often (more in the Middle Keys), and I hadn't heard of it before. I think we'll give that a try next trip. What kind of place is it? A neighborhood hangout, good food at good prices, great food at slightly higher prices, casual as in shorts and T-shirt or casual as in pants and a nice shirt?

I hope some of the divers here can make use of your zoas at 20-40'. Personally, I can't get down more than about 10-15' free diving. But I am looking for new spots to see zoas since my old spot, Little Money Key, was over run with slimy algae last spring. We haven't been back there since. Hopefully it will recover like Little Bahia Honda Key did about 4 or 5 years ago.

I want to get out to Pigeon Key for some snorkeling on our next trip. I've never heard from anybody who has snorkeled there, but I've seen some of it from above when we walked out the old Flagler RR bridge. It looks pretty cool and fairly untouched.

I would rate Square Grouper as great food at higher prices. You can get away with tshirt and shorts, but I'd suggest maybe a shirt with a collar or nice hawaiian shirt, etc. Don't overdue it with a tux or anything like that. :lol2:
For those that are monitoring this thread, please be sure to know your regulations before doing any collecting. There are no take zones all over the Keys and a limit on the number of "polyps" you can take per day. The last time I dove it was 8 polyps per person, so don't get caught with a huge colony! Alot of the FWC officers don't necessarily know the collection laws as they pertain to soft coral, so get educated first!

Ron Reefman
12/08/2015, 07:17 AM
I would rate Square Grouper as great food at higher prices. You can get away with tshirt and shorts, but I'd suggest maybe a shirt with a collar or nice hawaiian shirt, etc. Don't overdue it with a tux or anything like that. :lol2:
For those that are monitoring this thread, please be sure to know your regulations before doing any collecting. There are no take zones all over the Keys and a limit on the number of "polyps" you can take per day. The last time I dove it was 8 polyps per person, so don't get caught with a huge colony! Alot of the FWC officers don't necessarily know the collection laws as they pertain to soft coral, so get educated first!

I can do a Hawaiian shirt! My wife loves to sew and makes most of her own blouses. She describes herself as a "fabraholic". So I have a few very cool shirts that are all fish and reef related!

I agree that knowing the Florida regs is worth stating over and over. If you get caught collecting in a protected area, or collecting things that are illegal, or too many of something that is legal, you will be looking at serious consequences! Here is a link to the 2015 Florida regs:
http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/aquarium-species/

Here is just one very important rule:
Bag Limit: 20 organisms per person per day; only 5 of any one species allowed within the 20-organism bag limit unless otherwise noted.

And the FWC has a lot of agents working in the Keys. We have been inspected a few times. The last time I was asked what we had collected and I told him everything that was in our bucket. And when I said we had "10 zoa polyps, 5 are mine and 5 are my wife's", he realized I knew the regs and he didn't even look in the bucket. They are there to protect the life in the water, not to harass the tourists. If you play by the rules they can be very helpful people.

G_Sanab922
12/08/2015, 09:19 AM
And the FWC has a lot of agents working in the Keys. We have been inspected a few times. The last time I was asked what we had collected and I told him everything that was in our bucket. And when I said we had "10 zoa polyps, 5 are mine and 5 are my wife's", he realized I knew the regs and he didn't even look in the bucket. They are there to protect the life in the water, not to harass the tourists. If you play by the rules they can be very helpful people.

I want to emphasize on what ron said here. Become an educated boater and fisherman and you'll never run into problems.
But do something stupid and you'll be on the black list...

aquavista99
12/16/2015, 04:13 PM
Looe Key Reef is my personal favorite place to dive in the Florida keys....and it is so close to Key West too.. (about 23 miles North if I recall).

Ron Reefman
12/17/2015, 03:39 AM
Looe Key Reef is my personal favorite place to dive in the Florida keys....and it is so close to Key West too.. (about 23 miles North if I recall).

That's where the snorkel boat from Bahia Honda State Park goes. It's just a short trip from the park to Looe Key. We snorkel out there every 2 or 3 years just to see the big reef and how it's doing.

So you can rent snorkel gear at Bahia Honda State Park, play with it and make sure it works for you in the water just off the beach which is a great place to snorkel! The fun part about off the beach at the park is that the water is really shallow and you are allowed to touch stuff, even pick stuff up if you want. Then take the big pontoon boat out to Looe Key for a 90 minute snorkel over some really big corals. The fun part about off the beach at the park is that the water is really shallow and you are allowed to touch stuff, even pick stuff up if you want.

icy1155
12/17/2015, 06:50 AM
If you couldn't tell, Ron gets really excited about picking things up and looking at them :)

Ron Reefman
12/18/2015, 04:48 AM
If you couldn't tell, Ron gets really excited about picking things up and looking at them :)

Mostly rocks in the shallow ocean, it's kind of like the box of Chocolates that Forest Gump's mom told him about, because you never know what you are going to find.:thumbsup:

icy1155
12/18/2015, 07:17 AM
BTW, I'm not sure if I've ever told you this Ron, but our favorite place to eat when we are in Marathon is at Burdines Waterfront. Its a small place above a fuel dock, just down the road from the Blackfin. Great food, a relaxed atmosphere and a nice sunset view from the deck, just bring some bug spray for the no-see-ums.

Ron Reefman
12/18/2015, 04:21 PM
You mentioned it when the club was looking for a place to eat when they did the field trip in June. Elaine and I when there on our last trip and enjoyed it a lot. Cool location, lots of nice outdoor seating (as long as it isn't raining) good service and good food. We were there late enough in the season that there weren't any bugs.

Have you ever been to 'The Wreck' on Grassy Key? It's next to the Dolphin Research Center. Good food and a good selection, very comfortable atmosphere, part bar and pat restaurant. Oh, and they sell a cool T-shirt as well. haha.

icy1155
12/21/2015, 07:16 AM
I'll have to give that one a try next time. Might be headed down in Jan for some B-day spearfishing and lobstering, along with probably some collecting for the new 80g to add to the cleanup crew.

Ron Reefman
12/23/2015, 05:18 AM
I hope you have a warm wet suit. The last time we were down there in mid December a few years ago it was darn cold! I have a 3 or 4 mil wet suit and it still only took about an hour and I was getting chilly.

BTW, I got the wet suit at a Salvation Army Store here in Cape Coral. I can only assume from somebody who did diving up north and didn't need it down here. It's a 2 piece and came with heavy gloves, a hood and nice boots that all fit well. It was all in a flip top plastic box like you can buy at Lowes and the whole package was $15. Seriously, $15. The box almost costs that much at Lowes! I only wear it on really cold snorkels in Dec thru Feb as I have lighter wet suits and a dive skin for warmer water.

icy1155
12/23/2015, 06:41 AM
We have paddled off Sanibel and went snorkeling/spearfishing a few times this past month, and my 1.5 mil long suit was enough. I have a tendency to not get as cold as some other people, but I do have a range of wetsuits from my rash guard to a 7 mil farmer john.

We are thinking we may rent a boat from Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge and go out to the patch reefs out off of Long Beach. When we were down there this summer we got to know them pretty well and there are some really nice little patches out there.

G_Sanab922
12/23/2015, 03:08 PM
Not only is it cold down here right now it's also very windy. Icy, make sure to check NOAA before you head out. It's been 20kts+ most of this month and don't think it'll be slowing down. Phillip from KP aquatics told me it's been pretty turbid these days.

viggen
12/25/2015, 08:00 PM
Great thread.... Big fan of the keys.... One of my favorite places to visit

I have always wanted to either rent a boat or bring a boat down there to do some snorkeling and also visit some off the beating path areas. ,y divorce was finalized 2 weeks ago and I am debating in heading to the keys late spring or early summer. Any opinions on if it's a good or bad idea to bring a boat? Found a few 15ft Seadoo speedsters locally which is what I would bring down. I figure I would probably tent camp at either Boyd's or the Koa.

Ron Reefman
12/26/2015, 04:47 AM
viggen, welcome to the thread. I have a good friend who lives in Dayton. We raced sports cars together when I lived in Columbus.

My condolences and/or congratulations on the divorce. Been there twice myself and now happily married for 10 years, and my wife has been divorced twice before as well!

On to the Keys trip info:

I think late spring and early summer are great as the water is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and the threat of afternoon thunderstorms (every other day by mid summer) and hurricanes (become a bit of a threat by the end of July).

My take on it is, if you have a boat, bringing it along can't be a bad idea. But if you don't have a boat, don't buy one just for this trip. There are lots of places to snorkel off the beach and see tons of cool stuff. Bahia Honda State Park is probably the best, but there are several free areas that are almost as good. And you can rent a kayak and get to a number of small islands just off shore like Little Bahia Honda (1/4 mile out), Little Money (1/4 mile out), and Money Key (3/4 mile out, but less than 1/4 mile from the Seven Mile Bridge). And then there are a lot of charter boats that go out to Looe Key, Sombrero Key and others every day (even twice a day) if the weather is good.

How long has it been since you were late in the Keys? What areas have you been to?

viggen
12/26/2015, 02:05 PM
What type of cars racing did you do? I don't have the $$$$ to race but I am getting back into drivers schools, slowly building a Miata form some track time. Putnam park and mid Ohio are what I plan on hitting this year.

Yea good and bad... It's my second divorce.... Hardest thing is I dont have my own kids and am or I guess was their step dad.... Sucks not seeing them at all.... Most didn't even know that I wasn't the kids dad... I play soccer with one of their old coaches and he said it took me 3 years to realize you were t their dad.....

I have wanted a small boat for a while, and would use it up here at times.... Thus it wouldn't be only for a trip down south.

I have stated at Boyd's, blue water key and sugarloaf Koa. Spent time at Bahia Honda snorkeling however last time I think 4 years ago tropical depressions were moving by thus we were body surfing not snorkeling. Went to the dry Tortugas back in 08 if I recall and years before that I did a snorkeling trip out to the reefs...... This thread has helped a lot of finding other places to snorkel off the shore.... :)

Most snorkeling I have done off the shores were off of key west....

Ron Reefman
12/27/2015, 03:58 AM
Ha! Building a Miata... what a crazy small world! My daily driver (and current auto-x and track day car) is an 08' Miata with an after market turbo and currently makes just under 300hp. This pic is from Palm Beach International last summer at an SCCA Track Night in America event. I just got new 16"x 8" wheels and 245/16 Hoosier slicks for the new auto-x season.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/IMG_2613%20R1_zpsucbfyfrk.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/IMG_2613%20R1_zpsucbfyfrk.jpg.html)

From 1980 thru 1995 I raced 4 different cars in 6 different classes from SSC (Showroom Stock C) in a 1979 Fiat X-1/9 to EP (E Production) in a 1987 Toyota MR2. Mostly around the Mid-west. I never ran Putnam Park but I ran a lot at Mid-Ohio. Second wife is still the liaison to Mid-Ohio for OVR (Ohio Valley Region of the SCCA in Columbus).

The kids thing has to be tough. I never felt 'mature' enough to have kids and none of my 3 wives wanted them either, so that was OK. I was having too much fun being a big kid myself and all the wives wanted careers rather than kids. That made funding a race car a lot easier. My friend in Dayton owned HIPPI Racing which owned, rented and maintained 5 to 8 SCCA Spec Racers until a few years ago. Now he plays golf and plays with go-karts (much cheaper and less work).

I have a love/hate relationship with boats. Moved to Florida and got a fairly new 26' MacGregor sailboat for a few years. I loved sailing but it was way too much work getting it in and out of the water. Then we got a very old 21' Proline 'walk around cabin' which was a cool boat but being old had giant issues. Now we have an almost new 11' Zodiac with a 20hp Suzuki. Easy to tow, easy to get in and out of the water, almost no maintenance and fun in the Keys for getting away from shore to little islands where we can snorkel areas with no other people around.

You mentioned body surfing at Bahia Honda due to a tropical storm. Do you know about the Horseshoe? It's just a bit further southwest from Bahia Honda on Spanish Harbor Key. It's so well protected from the weather that there is almost always worthwhile snorkeling there.

We have never done any snorkeling further south than the Middle Keys (except for a trip to the Dry Tortugas). Any suggestions for 'off the beach' snorkeling down toward Key West? Either this summer or next summer (when Elaine retires) we will do a camping trip out to the Dry Tortugas. The snorkeling is almost pristine and Fort Jefferson is really cool and historic. We want to go when there will be a new moon so the sky will be dark, you're 70 miles from Key West's lights... and if the sky is clear the Milky Way should be pretty spectacular stretched out across the sky!

viggen
12/27/2015, 01:15 PM
Small world indeed!!! Which turbo do you have! TDR being in Florida? I am also doing a turbo as well as a 2.5L swap. Do you have aftermarket brakes? Or just better pads?

I am not familiar with that racing team, I do know a few people who race mostly solo and Porsche club. The nice thing about Putnam is if you go off track... You are in a field... LOTS of runoff area

Yes boats w/o a doubt can be a pita. I want something simple... Grew up with boats and for a few years had a jet ski.... I am considering seadoo's 15 ft jet boat. Like your zodiac easy to load, trailer, maintain...

I didn't know about the horseshoe when we're were there but I do now! I am debating on heading west to colorado for some jeep trails and mountain biking or to the keys for snorkeling, relaxing, etc.... If I head to the keys spending a night or two at the Tortugas is something I am considering. As stated a awesome place

kenneth wolfe
12/27/2015, 01:29 PM
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G_Sanab922
12/28/2015, 01:45 PM
Sorry to break up your car stuff here LOL but just so you know the keys are VERY packed right now. And from what I've seen and heard it's not going to let down for a month or two. My in laws came from Miami to key largo and it took them 2 1/2 hours to get to my house. I can't imagine someone going to key west. Probably 6-7 hours.

Viggen for the time of year you plan to come I think a 15ft seadoo should be fine, especially in the middle/lower keys where their is less boat traffic. We've had renters that bring their boats up to the greater lakes. They are always glad they bring their boat. Renting can be good but there's nothing like having your own boat and having the experience out on the water.

Ron Reefman
12/29/2015, 05:14 AM
Much as I would like to chat more car stuff, I try to keep it to a minimum.

G Sanab922, I assume this is mostly the typical snowbird impact? We get the same thing over here in Ft Myers. The traffic is much heavier than the rest of the year and Ft Myers Beach, Sanibel beaches and Naples beaches are much more busy.

G_Sanab922
12/30/2015, 07:03 AM
Much as I would like to chat more car stuff, I try to keep it to a minimum.

G Sanab922, I assume this is mostly the typical snowbird impact? We get the same thing over here in Ft Myers. The traffic is much heavier than the rest of the year and Ft Myers Beach, Sanibel beaches and Naples beaches are much more busy.

Yea it's snowbirds but it wasn't that bad in Nov or early December. It's picking up like last year but a little late. And last year was a very packed winter. I like giving the heads up for people who plan to come because it can easily ruin a trip when you expect a 2-3 hour ride and it's a lot longer. And on the water it's worse obviously.
Down here we get all the drunks and on your side you get the people who relax lol. I love the beaches in Sanibel, but I couldn't imagine how long it'd take with that low speed limit road :blown:

viggen
12/30/2015, 08:49 PM
Cars... Fish... The ocean... :)

Yea I could only imagine what it's like down there now. It's been 10-15 years since I went down during the spring break time and it was always slow going.... Early 90's the first time I went down during that time it wasn't to bad.

Last time I was down there I did look into renting a boat at the camping area, if I recall it was close to $200 a day for a small beatup pontoon. I think it would be a lot of fun to be able to find a small island/beach/sandbar whatever to relax at w/o a bunch of people around. Unless it's girls in bikini's then I could deal with the spectra scenery :)

Ron Reefman
12/31/2015, 05:36 AM
Elaine and I always find it so relaxing to snorkel for a couple of hours at an out island like Little Money, Little Bahia Honda, Money or Molassas and then take a break for lunch. Just laying in a small Zodiac is laying sideways leaning up on one side tube and the legs draped over the other side tube, but it's so easy to unwind. It's quiet, gentle waves, comfortable water temps, warm air and sunshine! God I can't wait for May or June!

WilRams
01/09/2016, 08:30 PM
Wish I would have taken a look at this thread a couple months ago when I was down there. Good stuff.

icy1155
01/12/2016, 06:50 AM
Well, for a little weather report. The wife and I went down this past weekend. It has been blowing pretty good down there lately, but we decided to give it a try anyways. We brought the kayak and paddleboard to get out to the patch reefs off of Sugarloaf and were staying at the KOA. The water was pretty milky out on the Atlantic side of Sugarloaf, about 1' visibility. Sat we went out on the gulf side and got about 8' visibility, which was enough to get a couple keeper lobster and a hogfish for dinner. All in all, anyone who is going for the snorkeling should probably wait a little for it to calm down.

And if you are thinking of camping, get SOMETHING that stops no-see-ums. Usually they aren't this bad because it is cooler, but this winter has been warm and they are terrible. Our tent didn't keep them out, and we were miserable all night long.

Ron Reefman
01/16/2016, 06:33 AM
WilRams, you can come back to the Keys again any time. Late Spring before the afternoon thunderstorm season starts is a great time to visit.

icy1155, windy eh? Thanks for the update, we'll wait until May.

BTW, we are back online after being without internet or TV for a week after a small tornado took the cable that ran from the house to the telephone pole! It also took soffit, facia and about 25% of the insulation in our attic! Oh, and 4 big trees from our yard. One was a 25' tall mango that I raised from a 1' tall pup! But we were the lucky ones as less than 1 mile away houses all have blue tarp roofs and a few are uninhabitable!

Speedfreak241
01/19/2016, 07:29 PM
I am in the keys all the time and snorkel there quit often. This bahia Honda place I keep seeing, is it legal to collect there. There's a few places I go but don't know there exact locations other than the way there from the house.

G_Sanab922
01/20/2016, 07:09 AM
I am in the keys all the time and snorkel there quit often. This bahia Honda place I keep seeing, is it legal to collect there. There's a few places I go but don't know there exact locations other than the way there from the house.

Direct quote from Bahia Honda website:

"•FISHING: Tarpon fishing in the area rates among the best in the state. Charter boats and guides are generally available for hire during tarpon season. Saltwater fishing licenses are required in Florida. All fishing within the park must conform to the regulations concerning size, number, method of capture and season. Spearfishing, possession of spearfishing equipment and collection of tropical fish (by any method) is prohibited inside the park. Collection of live shells & Queen conchs are prohibited."

Added note: it's freezing down here. lol :uhoh2:

Speedfreak241
01/20/2016, 03:16 PM
Ok thank you very much for the information and I know it's freezing down there I have family down there that I visit all the time in Islamorada. Can't wait till it warms up again so I can go out and snorkel. Sadly I will have to take out one of our smaller boats because or bigger one sunk because of all the rain we had one week.

G_Sanab922
01/21/2016, 07:07 AM
Dang sorry to hear that. Same thing almost happened with ours, I try to check it as much as possible but sometimes it rains non stop.

water is wet
01/21/2016, 07:29 AM
What's the best time of year to come down? Our first time down was last April and the water was very beautiful and blue but pretty choppy but my last time down at the end of September the water want nearly as clear and wasn't very blue. I'd like to go when it's the bluest and calmest.

icy1155
01/21/2016, 09:31 AM
I love August. Why? Lobster season is open after the 6th, grouper season is open, and it is usually good weather, barring the occasional hurricane/tropical storm. With that being said, if you aren't from FL, you will probably find it hot.

G_Sanab922
01/21/2016, 11:11 AM
I love August. Why? Lobster season is open after the 6th, grouper season is open, and it is usually good weather, barring the occasional hurricane/tropical storm. With that being said, if you aren't from FL, you will probably find it hot.

+1

I think any time in the summer is good. I normally go spearfishing May - July. I went in late August and there was a thunderstorm for half of the day and flat calm beautiful the rest. That's Florida for you, land of the bipolar weather.
Just try to avoid long weekends if you can lol

Ron Reefman
01/26/2016, 05:23 AM
Speedfreak241, you need to figure out where you are snorkeling and share.

We tend to snorkel Bahia Honda when we are just going out for a good time and not collecting. There are more than enough cool places to collect the same things you see at Bahia Honda, so no need to test the rules enforcement at the park. LOL!

We find April - June is pretty good weather and the water is getting warmer and the air isn't too hot. July - Sept can be OK. The water is nice and warm, the air is hot and afternoon thunderstorms are fairly common. But there are days of flat, clear water. Oct - Nov are also pretty good. The water is slow to cool so it's comfortable, the air is cooling off some and afternoon thunderstorms are much less frequent.

We are so ready to get back again.

The last 2 weekends we have done beachwalk/collection on Sanibel Island (west of Ft Myers/Cape Coral). The strong west winds associated with rare cold front passage create the right conditions for lots of things to wash up on the beach. Two weeks ago I got to play with a small sharpnose shark that was struggling to get back out into deeper water. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would catch a shark, even a small one, with my bare hands! We also found small reef octopus, lots of big horse conch, hundreds of dead urchins and pin shells. BTW, I walked the shark out into waist deep water and it swam away just fine. Some of the other animals we find on the beach also get returned to the water in hopes that they will survive.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P1180451_zpskppyswll.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P1180451_zpskppyswll.jpg.html)

As you can see by my clothes, it was cold (by SW Florida standards) and I had on a dive skin pants under my blue jeans!

This weekend I found a purple Gorgonian that is flat like a sea fan (but it isn't one), is about 16" wide and 12" tall. It has been in my 75g hexagon Gorgonian tank for 36 hours and appears to be in good condition. I'm hoping that the polyps will come out today, now that it has had some time to acclimate. I'm sure spending hours on the beach in sub 50 temps is a shock to it's system... I was to mine as well! Here is a smaller one that my wife took a photo of on the beach.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P1180104_zpseagqbrbe.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P1180104_zpseagqbrbe.jpg.html)

These beaches are normally pretty good for shelling and there are lots of snowbirds doing that, even on really cold days. I probably had 10 to 15 people each weekend come up to me and ask about what I was looking for when I was tearing open the sponges that had washed up. We were the only people doing that, so we were obviously up to something, especially with a big bucket and a bubbler.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P1180029_zps5mmc7bs4.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P1180029_zps5mmc7bs4.jpg.html)

I find it enjoyable to share some of the local knowledge to the curious visitors. Almost no locals asked (and probably very few out there in the cold), but the people who did ask me were from California, Texas, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Vermont, North Carolina, Canada and Germany! This is what the beach looks like the day after a strong west wind causes big waves for 24 hours or more (very uncommon here).

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P1180372_zpsmc9cmw8a.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P1180372_zpsmc9cmw8a.jpg.html)


BTW, when almost everything on the beach is dead or dying, we open sponges and find porcelain crabs, small serpent and brittle stars, pistol and peppermint shrimp and occasionally other critters. I got a few American Warty anemones and a handful of Green Lip Muscles as well. All are home and in various tanks acclimating. It makes the $6 bridge/causeway toll and $4/hour parking toll (we did 3 and 4 hour stays) well worth the visit. And just to be perfectly clear, my wife and I both have Florida saltwater fishing licenses so we are doing this all completely legally. :thumbsup:

aquavista99
01/26/2016, 11:05 AM
Nice pictures ...I miss the Florida Keys..Looe Key reef is what I miss the most

Ron Reefman
02/11/2016, 07:33 AM
Gees, I can't wait for the weather to start warming up. Last night we were in the low 40's and I had heaters in both my aquarium systems. May/June snorkeling weather can't get here soon enough for me!

I did do a Sanibel Island beach walk and picked up a lot of porcelain crabs and some pistol shrimp. I was shocked when I saw that Drs F&S sell porcelain crabs for $19.95 each! Living near the Gulf of Mexico does have it's advantages! It almost made me forget about the $6 causeway fee and $4/hr parking cost (we were there for almost 5 hours).

Ron Reefman
02/21/2016, 06:12 AM
A friend in our local aquarium club asked me yesterday about when I want to schedule my next Keys snorkeling trip? He'd like to go as soon as the snowbirds leave and motel rates go down for the end of the season.

I have wet suits that will keep me warm even in January & February temps for water in the Keys. But the other side of the coin is that the critters in the water don't have the luxury of changing to a heavier wet suit and they tend to 'hide out' until things warm up a bit... at least in my experience. Anybody have a good idea when things start to get better as far as underwater life in the Keys? Especially in the shallow near shore waters.

thelawnwrangler
02/29/2016, 10:28 PM
Just booked Florida Keys trip the end of this May and would love any and all advice on what to do and see

so far thinking of spending 2-4 days in key west, and then spend the rest of the time in Marathon (I found a brand new Courtyard I could use Marriott points).

I have never snorkel but want to give it a try any tips or suggestions?
I want to see dry tortuga, but is this a snorkel spot? Then I also heard I should go to John Pennekamp. I would have booked Key Largo Marriott, but the rooms on points were gone. I am hoping Marathon is kind of a good jump of spot to see whatever is suggested.

My wife will want to see the sea turtle hospital.

G_Sanab922
03/01/2016, 07:11 AM
Just booked Florida Keys trip the end of this May and would love any and all advice on what to do and see

so far thinking of spending 2-4 days in key west, and then spend the rest of the time in Marathon (I found a brand new Courtyard I could use Marriott points).

I have never snorkel but want to give it a try any tips or suggestions?
I want to see dry tortuga, but is this a snorkel spot? Then I also heard I should go to John Pennekamp. I would have booked Key Largo Marriott, but the rooms on points were gone. I am hoping Marathon is kind of a good jump of spot to see whatever is suggested.

My wife will want to see the sea turtle hospital.

I posted this on our club page the other day. Hope this helps.

For now i'll mention some cheap things,
Upper Keys: Snorkeling trips in key largo $30-$40 Keysdiver.com, John Pennekamp like others mentioned, Florida Keys Wild bird center (free), Glass bottom boat (most keys have them, always a good alternative if you can't snorkel),

Middle keys: Turtle hospital, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter, Sombrero Beach, Robbies (upper/middle keys area) and if you don't eat there just go to feed the tarpon it's a unique experience.

Key West: Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (#1 on trip advisor), Ernest Hemingway's house, Southernmost point, Duval, Mallory square,

thelawnwrangler
03/01/2016, 09:30 AM
Awesome thanks

I am going to have to youtube snorkeling- worried about rental fins and size 15 feet lol

I saw Aquarium Encounter I will have to check it out.

G_Sanab922
03/01/2016, 11:58 AM
Awesome thanks

I am going to have to youtube snorkeling- worried about rental fins and size 15 feet lol

I saw Aquarium Encounter I will have to check it out.

If you go on a dive boat they will teach you on the spot. If you don't feel 100% then just stay at the top and swim to where it gets shallower but not too far from the boat , especially if there is a lot of current.
It's simple. Look down , keep your snorkel up , make sure your mask is snug ( not too tight and not too loose) and kick your feet under the water to make less commotion. My wife did it for the first time in Grand Turk and she's not the outdoorsy type. Feel free to ask for a vest if you want. May is a good time to snorkel, the weather is a lot better than winter time.
If you want to get a feel for all the types of gear stop by Diver's Direct in Key Largo, look and try on everything they have. See what you feel comfortable with, there's different types of fins.

thelawnwrangler
03/01/2016, 01:56 PM
If you go on a dive boat they will teach you on the spot. If you don't feel 100% then just stay at the top and swim to where it gets shallower but not too far from the boat , especially if there is a lot of current.
It's simple. Look down , keep your snorkel up , make sure your mask is snug ( not too tight and not too loose) and kick your feet under the water to make less commotion. My wife did it for the first time in Grand Turk and she's not the outdoorsy type. Feel free to ask for a vest if you want. May is a good time to snorkel, the weather is a lot better than winter time.
If you want to get a feel for all the types of gear stop by Diver's Direct in Key Largo, look and try on everything they have. See what you feel comfortable with, there's different types of fins.

what are your thoughts on investment in my own gear for enjoyability - could I have something 50 or so that would be better than the loaner stuff, and make it more fun for me? Particularly if I go out a few times?

G_Sanab922
03/01/2016, 02:23 PM
what are your thoughts on investment in my own gear for enjoyability - could I have something 50 or so that would be better than the loaner stuff, and make it more fun for me? Particularly if I go out a few times?

It really depends on how much you plan to snorkel. But if you want to be spontaneous and not have to worry about renting when you want to snorkel at the beach then yes it's a good option. Plus it's a good way to see if you really enjoy this hobby. You never know maybe you get addicted, you will then be able to get better gear as you get better with it.

Here's a link for different combos. Pretty cheap.

http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=19701526&bc=CatGroup_SnorkelingGearEquipment_R1_C1_SetsCombos

This is way cheaper than diver's direct. Maybe go with mask and snorkel only and then get fins in store since your size might be difficult.
These aren't the best but for your application it should be fine.

Ron Reefman
03/02/2016, 06:02 AM
Thelawnwrangler, well, it looks like we'll just miss each other, my wife just put in for the 2nd week of May for vacation.

Try this idea, we have scuba dive schools here that sell masks, snorkels and fins, and they have a pool. Call the schools in your area and see if they will let you try out stuff in their pool? I know the one in my area does. That way you kill 2 birds with one stone, you get to buy (maybe a bit more expensive than a store), you get to try them in the water to test the fit, and you get to see how easy snorkeling can be. One other point, if you go out on snorkel charters, you can't ware gloves because they don't want you touching the coral. Do at least one charter (Looe Key is a reef off Bahia Honda State Park and it's a great reef). But if you go off a beach like Bahia Honda State Park (just over the 7 Mile Bridge from Marathon) with gloves you can have a lot of fun exploring shallow waters where you can lift up rocks (you'll really want gloves) and it will uncover lots of things you'll never see otherwise. Things like serpent stars, sea cucumbers, all kinds of crabs, and more. You'll be able to touch anemones and see their reaction without the worry of being stung.

I consider Bahia Honda State Park the single biggest don't miss site in the Keys, especially if you want to snorkel. You can rent your gear from them if you don't bring your own. They even have sea kayaks you can rent and take them out 1/4 mile to Little Bahia Honda Key and snorkel even cooler and very shallow water. Maybe 1 out of 10 or 20 snorkelers get out there.

Both off the beach and out at Little Bahia Honda Key there is a lot to see in VERY shallow water (1' to 2' if you want to get up close and personal) and if you go out from shore there is a lot to see in 5" and 10" deep water. How about a Candelabra Gorgonian that is 4" thick at the base, is 3' to 4' wide and is 4' to 5' tall.

Key West is fun and if you've never been, there is a lot to do, but it is very touristy. I go to the Keys 3 to 5 long weekends a year and I go to Key West once every 3 or 4 years, but I go to the Keys to snorkel.

The Dry Tortugas and Ft Jefferson are very cool if you like old forts and history, or if you want to snorkel in some very pristine and clear water. I like both and the 4 to 5 hours you get on site just wasn't enough for me. So my wife and I are planing an over night camping trip there this Spring or next Spring. But it's a long ride out and a long ride back (2.5 to 3 hours each way) and it isn't cheap.

Time for breakfast... more later.

G_Sanab922
03/02/2016, 07:56 AM
So my wife and I are planing an over night camping trip there this Spring or next Spring. But it's a long ride out and a long ride back (2.5 to 3 hours each way) and it isn't cheap.


I guess you haven't heard about the huge Crocodile that lives on the beach :p

nuttyd
03/02/2016, 08:09 AM
Here's a link for different combos. Pretty cheap.

http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=19701526&bc=CatGroup_SnorkelingGearEquipment_R1_C1_SetsCombos

This is way cheaper than diver's direct. Maybe go with mask and snorkel only and then get fins in store since your size might be difficult.
These aren't the best but for your application it should be fine.[/QUOTE]

Go to a local store like divers direct or other dive shop to fit the mask to your face. nothing worse for the new snorkeler to have a mask that leaks the entire time. Then you can buy the mask online from dicks or leisurepro. Highly recommend nofog to go along with. Wash the mask glass with toothpaste before use. will help with fogging up.

thelawnwrangler
03/02/2016, 09:36 AM
great tips all thanks

Right now I am going to research the following:
Bahia Honda State Park
Pennekamp
and Dry Tortugas

I think definitely I will get my own mask and snorkel. I am driving down to Key West from Miami on a Saturday assuming key largo or islamaradoa is better for getting snorkel gear. I assume price difference is like LFS I don't mind a little premium if it comes with expert advise.

I need to research what I might see so I can identify it when I am out.

I am really excited and appreciate all the good tips

Ron Reefman - love the zoa you found are those very common in the area?

nuttyd
03/02/2016, 10:09 AM
Most local dive shops will have waterproof cards that have species identifications on them. not very expensive either.

Mask fit is critical. Should be able to suck the mask to your face and have it stay without straps. That creates the best seal. Snorkels are preference. Get foot socks or booties to prevent rubbing your feet raw. Water is pretty cold now, rent a wetsuit.

thelawnwrangler
03/02/2016, 11:58 AM
Most local dive shops will have waterproof cards that have species identifications on them. not very expensive either.

Mask fit is critical. Should be able to suck the mask to your face and have it stay without straps. That creates the best seal. Snorkels are preference. Get foot socks or booties to prevent rubbing your feet raw. Water is pretty cold now, rent a wetsuit.

will I need a wetsuit end of May?

great tips thanks

I like that species card idea I will look for it.

G_Sanab922
03/02/2016, 12:21 PM
will I need a wetsuit end of May?

great tips thanks

I like that species card idea I will look for it.

No wet suit needed.
Booties/Socks optional, they are normally used for fins that have the strap style.

thelawnwrangler
03/02/2016, 12:34 PM
No wet suit needed.
Booties/Socks optional, they are normally used for fins that have the strap style.

I am thinking about getting those because odds are with size 15 I am getting the strap style fin lol

AZRippster
03/02/2016, 12:43 PM
G_Sanab922, hopefully you can pass on some advice. My wife and I typically go to The Keys every year, but normally in the Oct-Nov time frame. This year we're headed down to Islamorada in mid-April, a time we're not familiar with. We're divers and have dove most locations between Largo and Islamorada. What should we expect as far as water temps? I normally do not use a wetsuit, I hate them, and my wife typically just wears a skin. Thanks!

G_Sanab922
03/02/2016, 01:25 PM
G_Sanab922, hopefully you can pass on some advice. My wife and I typically go to The Keys every year, but normally in the Oct-Nov time frame. This year we're headed down to Islamorada in mid-April, a time we're not familiar with. We're divers and have dove most locations between Largo and Islamorada. What should we expect as far as water temps? I normally do not use a wetsuit, I hate them, and my wife typically just wears a skin. Thanks!

Hey, yea no problem. April is a great time. Most of the time this is when it really starts heating up. For water temp it's around the high 70s. This is also when the Dolphin (Mahi mahi) start coming in. I highly recommend spending the money if you can and getting a charter to catch some (ask captain how it's running first).
Early part of April you still might get some of that spring break traffic as well.
As for wetsuits, I'm not a wetsuit person, I prefer not to wear them. I think you both will be fine without it. Maybe something light to protect from sun or something but that's more personal preference. You'll see a lot less jellies this time of year compared to Oct-Nov. Hope you trip goes well. try to get some pics to post here

AZRippster
03/02/2016, 03:48 PM
Are you talking the big pink moon jellies? If so, crap! They are bad enough in Oct-Nov. I got nailed a couple years back by some. Right behind the knees! :sad2: My son-in-law wants to go deep sea fishing so I'll let him know. Thanks for the info and advice.

Ron Reefman
03/02/2016, 05:21 PM
great tips all thanks

Right now I am going to research the following:
Bahia Honda State Park
Pennekamp
and Dry Tortugas

I think definitely I will get my own mask and snorkel. I am driving down to Key West from Miami on a Saturday assuming key largo or islamaradoa is better for getting snorkel gear. I assume price difference is like LFS I don't mind a little premium if it comes with expert advise.

I need to research what I might see so I can identify it when I am out.

I am really excited and appreciate all the good tips

Ron Reefman - love the zoa you found are those very common in the area?

I've only found the green zoas in 2 places, both near Bahia Honda. But last year one of the main sites was completely over run with a algae that wreaked havoc on the zoas and queen conch. But you'd need a boat or kayak to get there anyway. The other site is not as good, but it's just off the SW end of the bridge that gets you onto Spanish Harbor Key. On the Florida Bay side of the island is an old quarry that is out in the water which we enjoy snorkeling around the outside, especially the end out away from shore. You can see it on Google Earth maps. The other side has a new 'park' facility and you can snorkel off the beach on that side as well. It's on that side were we found some of the zoas.

will I need a wetsuit end of May?

great tips thanks

I like that species card idea I will look for it.

It depends on your body mass, how cold it's been, and how much you can tolerate the cold. Most of the Keys water temps will be in the 80's by May, maybe even 82 or 83 by late May. Is that warm enough for you? When I lived in Michigan I thought 80 was bath water warm... after 16 years in SW Florida, I'm still wearing a thin wet suit. And even in the heat of summer when water temps get into the high 80's I wear a dive skin to keep off the sun. For me, 2 to 3 hours snorkeling would fry me to a crisp. And it's different for divers because they are under water and the UV doesn't penetrate very far.

No wet suit needed.
Booties/Socks optional, they are normally used for fins that have the strap style.

I am thinking about getting those because odds are with size 15 I am getting the strap style fin lol

I never used them. Then last summer my wife had me try a pair and they make getting your foot through the wet suit so much easier and getting the fins on is easier as well. Now I love them.

Are you talking the big pink moon jellies? If so, crap! They are bad enough in Oct-Nov. I got nailed a couple years back by some. Right behind the knees! :sad2: My son-in-law wants to go deep sea fishing so I'll let him know. Thanks for the info and advice.

AZ, he said LESS chance of jellies. BTW lawnwrangler, jellies are much less of an issue most of the time for snorkeling, especially off the beach. Although I did get a good sting from an upside down jelly. I felt safe with a dive skin and gloves, but part of my wrist was exposed and I got a nasty hit.

icy1155
03/08/2016, 01:40 PM
It depends on your body mass, how cold it's been, and how much you can tolerate the cold. Most of the Keys water temps will be in the 80's by May, maybe even 82 or 83 by late May. Is that warm enough for you?

That's really the best answer here. I can dive all year round in the keys with a 1.5 mil wetsuit. I wear it mainly because its camo for when I'm spearfishing, but it keeps ME warm enough in the winter than I can spend all day in the water. My wife on the other hand wears a 3/2 wetsuit in the winter and she gets cold in a couple hours. Just depends on how prone you are to getting cold.

nogascans
03/08/2016, 01:48 PM
Anyone make a recommendation for a good dive shop in lower keys? I would like to plan a couple of days diving at Looe Key while wife does some snorkeling. Planning 1st week of April.

Sincerely,

David

Speedfreak241
03/20/2016, 07:46 AM
Well I'm down here in the Islamorada and can't go to my spot to get the coordinates because it is to windy anyone have any good locations when there's wind blowing out of the southeast at 13.

Ron Reefman
03/22/2016, 09:49 AM
Sorry I'm late to this, but if off the beach stuff is an interest, look at the Horseshoe on the NW side of Spanish Harbor Key. There is a parking lot there and it's an old quarry that is 40' to 60' deep inside and quite shallow outside for snorkeling. Little if any coral, but tons of other life among the rock rubble outside the arms of the quarry. See the 2nd photo of post 3 in this thread. You can easily see the horseshoe in the Google Earth photo.

sam.basye
03/24/2016, 11:59 PM
Ron, or anyone else who has an idea.
Do you know what type of fish this is?

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160201_181637477_zps5dpbgun0.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160201_181637477_zps5dpbgun0.jpg.html)


http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160201_181727479_zpsyx2xuifx.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160201_181727479_zpsyx2xuifx.jpg.html)


I collected it in Key Largo last March in about 6" of water about 4' from the shore at a tiny little "bike path beach" on the gulf side. I collected it at night with a bucket, sucked it right in.

It is about 2.5" long, silver with faint gray/brown markings, and active at all hours.

I've never been able to find an ID, though I believe it to be some sort of goby.

Ron Reefman
03/25/2016, 06:57 AM
Hi Sam,

I'm a lot more into inverts than fish, and even then I don't claim any real expertise. My wife (head reference librarian) and I looked in our reference materials at home and on the internet and didn't find any good answers.

First, we both agree it's very unlikely any kind of goby as they all seem to have a long fin that runs down their spine and your fish has just a short fin.

Second, we both thought it's very likely a juvenile of some species and therefore could look quite different in 6 month or a year. Although you have had it at home for a year now and that shoots a big hole in that idea!:spin2:

The good news is that when I offer up a reference item like this to my wife, she can be like a dog with a bone and just can't let it go. I'll also ask a few friends in our local club who are more into fish, both for collecting and for fishing.

Hopefully, somebody else on here will have some ideas. I've never collected any fish in the Keys, but I have brought home a few that I collected in the Gulf of Mexico near home here in SW Florida. They all grew into much bigger fish that we were able to identify.

The best we could do, and it's just a WAG (Wild A$$ Guess) was a Sheepshead Minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) which only grows to about 3" long. A field guide we have said," This fish is often found in isolated tidal pools, where it tolerates extremes of temperature and salinity."

G_Sanab922
03/25/2016, 07:28 AM
The best we could do, and it's just a WAG (Wild A$$ Guess) was a Sheepshead Minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) which only grows to about 3" long. A field guide we have said," This fish is often found in isolated tidal pools, where it tolerates extremes of temperature and salinity."

I think that's a pretty good guess. Honestly though it looks similar to the saltwater mollies and minnows I have in my canal. I'm on the bayside. There's so many different types it's hard to get info on all of them.

sam.basye
03/25/2016, 10:20 AM
Thanks guys! I think you might be right with the Sheepshead Minnow.

The main reason I ask is that I wanted to know if it could self-fertilize.
It's the only one in my tank, had it for a year, and about a month ago it looked pregnant. It went away for about a week (last week), and now looks prego again. Stomach very bloated, like the breeding freshwater mollies I used to have in a different tank.

None of my fish (2 clowns, 3 stripe damsel, bicolor blenny) like it, so it basically lives in the back of my tank in the 'fuge section (3" gap the width of the tank behind the foam wall) until feeding time and then stays out front all night while the other fish sleep.
I have a little window I can look through to see whats going on back there, but I can't see a whole lot.
So, not sure if it layed eggs or not.

From my researching, it appears that there are separate sexes and that's the only way of fertilization..
I also think that mine is a female as it has never changed colors like the male's do during the breeding months (from silver to blue/orange) and it lacks the darker male markings.

sam.basye
03/25/2016, 12:35 PM
Here is a pic I just took when the lights came on. You can kind of see the increased belly in it. The previous bta pic was when the fish didn't look pregnant.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160325_141251276_zpshpmt1ldi.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160325_141251276_zpshpmt1ldi.jpg.html)

Last nighthttp://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160323_242214596_zpspwj6bcju.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160323_242214596_zpspwj6bcju.jpg.html)


I found a pic of exactly where I caught her at. Caught it at night with a flashlight and a 2gal bucket.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/Screenshot_2016-03-25-14-02-07_zpsii3y0hvi.png (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/Screenshot_2016-03-25-14-02-07_zpsii3y0hvi.png.html)

Rcook9
03/29/2016, 08:43 PM
Here is a pic I just took when the lights came on. You can kind of see the increased belly in it. The previous bta pic was when the fish didn't look pregnant.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160325_141251276_zpshpmt1ldi.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160325_141251276_zpshpmt1ldi.jpg.html)

Last nighthttp://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160323_242214596_zpspwj6bcju.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160323_242214596_zpspwj6bcju.jpg.html)


I found a pic of exactly where I caught her at. Caught it at night with a flashlight and a 2gal bucket.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/Screenshot_2016-03-25-14-02-07_zpsii3y0hvi.png (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/Screenshot_2016-03-25-14-02-07_zpsii3y0hvi.png.html)
I live in bradenton florida and we have these fish everywhere. I have always called the mud minnows because you find them in muddy brackish water. It's a species of killifish, I beleive it's a marsh killifish but I could be wrong on the exact species. Also these fish in the wild are often extremely fat. Not sure if all the big ones are pregnant females that I see or if it is just how they are.

sam.basye
03/29/2016, 08:54 PM
You're right, they are a species of killifish, but I think more specifically they are a Sheepshead Minnow. I actually found this pic when I first got it a year ago. Thin and shiny.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021004019_HDR_zpsaq4ggf9z.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021004019_HDR_zpsaq4ggf9z.jpg.html)

Now it's intermittently fat and kinda striped.


About 2 years ago, I caught my first saltwater fish. They were 2 killifish from SC that went through hell and back in a tiny tank and my lack of knowledge. Cool fish though. Bomb proof. Lol

sam.basye
03/29/2016, 09:01 PM
Figured I'd post some pics from my spring break trip last year with some of the critters you might see in the keys.

The best things will usually be found by flipping rocks.
Lots of brittle and serpent stars, emerald crabs (tan, green, and red), blue leg hermits, whelks, rock boring urchins, etc.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_014055685_zpsn7ugfedh.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_014055685_zpsn7ugfedh.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_020842201_zps9hvzzr9p.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_020842201_zps9hvzzr9p.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021120316_zpsluzkyjmn.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021120316_zpsluzkyjmn.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021408134_zpsud3yzye2.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021408134_zpsud3yzye2.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021724546_zpszgczmvhf.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021724546_zpszgczmvhf.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021955978_zps6mw5a8ut.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021955978_zps6mw5a8ut.jpg.html)

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_014829406_zpsfmrqyzuk.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_014829406_zpsfmrqyzuk.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
03/30/2016, 11:19 AM
You're right, they are a species of killifish, but I think more specifically they are a Sheepshead Minnow. I actually found this pic when I first got it a year ago. Thin and shiny.

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20150316_021004019_HDR_zpsaq4ggf9z.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20150316_021004019_HDR_zpsaq4ggf9z.jpg.html)

Now it's intermittently fat and kinda striped.


About 2 years ago, I caught my first saltwater fish. They were 2 killifish from SC that went through hell and back in a tiny tank and my lack of knowledge. Cool fish though. Bomb proof. Lol

well if that's the case then I have these guys all over my canal haha
in all types of colors and sizes.

And nice catch Sam, looks nice. The only bad thing about the critters down here is that a lot aren't reef safe.

Ron Reefman
03/31/2016, 06:52 AM
You have to be careful with wild caught animals.

First is to be sure that what you are collecting is legal and that you have the proper license. Like here in Lee County (Ft Myers/Cape Coral) it's illegal to collect ANYTHING that is alive in a shell. No clams, no scallops, no mussels and even no hermit crabs!

Second is to know how to keep them alive for transport back home. I use a cooler about half full of water with a battery operated bubbler and airstone for the 4-5 hour drive home.

Third is quarantine, depending on what you have collected. I used to worry about this A LOT, but in 12 years I haven't had a single animal show any disease or parasite. And none have caused any issues like that in my tanks.

And finally, are they safe for what you are doing with your tank. For example, in Sam's photos there is a Crown Conch which is a carnivore and will eat your snails. Or the small crab with the black tipped claws. It's a Stone Crab and it's also a carnivore and also can grow quite big. I had one in my refugium that went from tiny to over 4" across it carapace in about 18 months!

But all that said, I have a lot of wild caught animals in my tanks and they have all done quite well. I've had emerald crabs, serpent stars, porcelain crabs, yellow sea cucumbers, green zoas, cinnamon palys, brittle stars, various clams, flame scallops, rock flower anemones, pistol shrimp, american warty anemones, banded coral shrimp, curly-cue anemones, condy anemones (now illegal to collect in Florida), gorgonian corals, file fish, and more. In fact I have a 2 clams that have 8" to 12" long purple gorgonians attached to them. And they were beach rescues after a storm!

jml538
03/31/2016, 07:14 AM
Ron, or anyone else who has an idea.
Do you know what type of fish this is?

http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160201_181637477_zps5dpbgun0.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160201_181637477_zps5dpbgun0.jpg.html)


http://i845.photobucket.com/albums/ab11/sambasye/IMG_20160201_181727479_zpsyx2xuifx.jpg (http://s845.photobucket.com/user/sambasye/media/IMG_20160201_181727479_zpsyx2xuifx.jpg.html)


I collected it in Key Largo last March in about 6" of water about 4' from the shore at a tiny little "bike path beach" on the gulf side. I collected it at night with a bucket, sucked it right in.

It is about 2.5" long, silver with faint gray/brown markings, and active at all hours.

I've never been able to find an ID, though I believe it to be some sort of goby.


I believe it is a Sheepshead minnow. Or it looks like one, we get em up here in New Jersey.

Ron Reefman
04/08/2016, 06:47 AM
We are starting to plan our Keys snorkel trips for the summer. So far we are going to do a mid week trip the 2nd week in May. And we will be with the SWFMAS (SouthWest Florida Marine Aquarium Society) for their club field trip the weekend of June 17th through the 20th. We are so looking forward to getting back in the water!

AZRippster
04/08/2016, 01:53 PM
We are starting to plan our Keys snorkel trips for the summer. So far we are going to do a mid week trip the 2nd week in May. And we will be with the SWFMAS (SouthWest Florida Marine Aquarium Society) for their club field trip the weekend of June 17th through the 20th. We are so looking forward to getting back in the water!

I hear ya! Headed to Islamorada next Friday and will be diving reefs from there up to Largo. It's been since November last year since I was on compressed air, so the itch is overwhelmingly powerful.

Ron Reefman
04/09/2016, 03:33 AM
Wow, all the way from AZ to dive in the Keys. I've never really paid any attention, but I would have guessed there would be 'stuff' worth diving on in the Gulf of California (although it is a foreign country) or off the coast of Southern CA? But we're glad to have you come to Florida and enjoy the Keys! The weather here is getting quite nice, upper 60's at night and low 80's most days.

AZRippster
04/11/2016, 10:34 PM
Wow, all the way from AZ to dive in the Keys. I've never really paid any attention, but I would have guessed there would be 'stuff' worth diving on in the Gulf of California (although it is a foreign country) or off the coast of Southern CA? But we're glad to have you come to Florida and enjoy the Keys! The weather here is getting quite nice, upper 60's at night and low 80's most days.

It's almost become a tradition going to The Keys. This will be our 6th trip in just about as many years. We also dive San Carlos annually which is in the Gulf of California. The California Coast is too cold for us so we typically catch a big bird somewhere else. We like the The Keys for more than diving and also heading down to Key West for a day of mischief is tops. The Keys used to be amazing and I was fortunate enough to dive their reefs in the early '90s. Sadly, they are no longer anywhere close to they way they were then.

This year though we'll have our grandchildren with us, so does anyone know of a good tidal area near Islamorada where little critters can be found that young ones would find interesting? They are 3 and 4 years old, so more tidal versus snorkeling, they are not quite there yet.

G_Sanab922
04/13/2016, 06:58 AM
In Islamorada you can go to Founder's Park Beach or Anne's Beach. For the kids I think that would be your best bet for that area. You can also stop in between the bridges on those little islands but it tends to be a lot more rocky there.

AZRippster
04/13/2016, 10:43 AM
In Islamorada you can go to Founder's Park Beach or Anne's Beach. For the kids I think that would be your best bet for that area. You can also stop in between the bridges on those little islands but it tends to be a lot more rocky there.

Thank you very much, this is exactly the type of info I was looking for. Now I just need to pull the tide tables so I can be sure when low tide is.

Thanks again!

G_Sanab922
04/13/2016, 02:43 PM
Thank you very much, this is exactly the type of info I was looking for. Now I just need to pull the tide tables so I can be sure when low tide is.

Thanks again!

No problem.
Another place is John Pennekamp in Key Largo. I normally don't recommend it because it can be pretty crowded sometimes and the beach is ok. One reason why I do mention it to you is that it has a shallow barrier around the beach that is calf to ankle deep. Many like to walk it and see what they can find under the rocks. There's pics of it if you google "John Pennekamp Beach".
Also there is a nice aquarium there and some nature trails.

AZRippster
04/13/2016, 03:42 PM
No problem.
Another place is John Pennekamp in Key Largo. I normally don't recommend it because it can be pretty crowded sometimes and the beach is ok. One reason why I do mention it to you is that it has a shallow barrier around the beach that is calf to ankle deep. Many like to walk it and see what they can find under the rocks. There's pics of it if you google "John Pennekamp Beach".
Also there is a nice aquarium there and some nature trails.

Yes, my wife and I already consider JP. We have visited it in the past and thought it might be nice for the grandchildren. On days when we are diving, we may recommend it to my daughter and son-in law to take the kids there.

Ron Reefman
04/14/2016, 06:19 AM
It's a bit of a drive from Islamorada, but Bahia Honda State Park has a nice beach (no seaweed washed up and shallow) on the Florida Bay side of the island. And although there can be a LOT of 'stuff' washed up on the oceans side beach, it's also shallow and after 15' to 25' sandy bottom it turns to all kinds of interesting stuff. And lots of it is still very shallow (especially at low tide). With the 2 beaches on either side of the island, one side is always calm water and they are only separated by a parking lot and bath house with an outside shower. And there are lots of places to visit in Marathon on the way to or home from Bahia Honda.

If you haven't been to it before, I recommend you visit the History of Diving Museum on Upper Matecumbe Key near Islamorada.
http://www.divingmuseum.org/

InOrderToBeAble
04/20/2016, 07:12 PM
I have lived and been in the waters of the Florida Keys for 20 years. You can drive from any location and jump in the water and see amazing sites. It is wonderful to see vast marine wildlife just driving down from mainland and parking and jumping in. There is no need to get in a boat and go out to a reef. As a result, I now collect as a business and am happy about it.

Ron Reefman
04/21/2016, 07:24 AM
I have lived and been in the waters of the Florida Keys for 20 years. You can drive from any location and jump in the water and see amazing sites. It is wonderful to see vast marine wildlife just driving down from mainland and parking and jumping in. There is no need to get in a boat and go out to a reef. As a result, I now collect as a business and am happy about it.

This is how I got into the aquarium hobby. My wife and I had done snorkeling at various times in our lives before we met. While we were dating we decided to go to the Keys and try some snorkeling right off the beach. We happened to pick Bahia Honda State Park and it has turned out to be a honey hole (as they say on American Pickers TV show) of things to see.

But to really do it well, you need to take your time and really look around and look closely at everything! Being slow in the water means you don't scare things away before you've even seen them.

We once followed an octopus for 10 minutes as it moved from one spot to another trying to hide using it's ability to change skin color, color pattern and even texture. We just floated along in about 3' of water and watched. It stopped at 4 or 5 different things and tried to hide. From a big purple Gorgonian to a big tan vase sponge to a big clump of red macro algae and finally it found a hole under a big ball sponge and it disappeared down the hole. I swear we could hear it laughing at us as it was saying,"Ha! You can't see me now, can you?"

Now I almost always bring back something from the Keys for my aquarium. And BTW, I have the appropriate Florida license and never even get close to the upper limits the state allows. Usually it's just couple of snails or a serpent star or a small Gorgonian coral or a rock flower anemone or a flame scallop... never a lot, but usually something. And the survival rate for these collected animals in our aquariums is better than the stuff we buy at LFS or online!

AZRippster
04/22/2016, 09:02 AM
This week SUCKED! Small craft advisories, rain, and terrible visibility. A real bummer. Thankfully the real purpose of our trip was to spend time with my kids and grandkids, but any shot at diving was shot down. We made a trip from Islamorada to Key West yesterday so the kids could see some sites but it poured the entire day. Overcast and rainy today but hoping to let the kids try out Robbies. Bottom line, the weather prediction the week before we left was 180 degrees off from reality. It appears Florida has the same weather person Arizona does. :spin1:

G_Sanab922
04/22/2016, 11:12 AM
Overcast and rainy today but hoping to let the kids try out Robbies. Bottom line, the weather prediction the week before we left was 180 degrees off from reality. It appears Florida has the same weather person Arizona does. :spin1:

Robbies is always a good choice. But yea the weather has been wacky lately. More bad than good.
Another place the kids might like is Wild Bird Sanctuary. It's free and doesn't take a long time.
I can't wait for the weather to get better, especially since the mahi are coming around now.

AZRippster
04/22/2016, 11:53 AM
They are enjoying Robbie's. Thankfully the clouds have cleared so our last day here looks like it will be nice. Sadly, diving is still not a realistic option. Looks like San Carlos, Mexico in July.

Ron Reefman
04/23/2016, 06:31 AM
Weather forecasting is a joke. They're lucky if they can get today and tomorrow right, let alone try for a week or more out. Although in south Florida during the summer it's pretty accurate. Mostly sunny in the morning, 30% to 50% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, clearing overnight with highs in the low 90's and lows in the high 70's. That works out pretty close about 5 days out of 7 from June through September and into October.

Well, we will be there in about 2 weeks. We hope to do a lot of near and just off shore snorkeling this trip. If we get a calm day I'm hoping I can get Elaine to go out to Molasses Key (along side the Seven Mile Bridge) about 2.5 miles from the boat ramp. She isn't real keen on getting too far from shore in an 11' inflatable. Or at least out to Money Key which is just a mile off shore.

The other place I want to hit is Little Money Key. For years we've always had good snorkeling out off the southwest to northeast sides of the island. But the last visit there in 2015 the coral flats were loaded with a 'scummy' balls of algae that was growing over everything. The previous year, 2014, we saw more queen conchs than ever before. But last year we found mostly empty conch shells. Everything seemed to be having a hard time, stoney corals, zoas, sponges, macro algae, everything.

Ron Reefman
05/09/2016, 06:39 AM
Heading to Marathon on Tuesday. I'll try to post some pics during the week while we are there.

Ron Reefman
05/14/2016, 05:21 PM
Back from the Keys last night and now I finally have all my new critters moved to various tanks.

Wednesday was windy, 10 to 15 mph and at Bahia Honda the visibility was really bad on the ocean side. We took the Zodiac out and did a trip around the island. Visibility and waves were much better on the lee side of the island (Florida Bay side). But there is very little back there that is worth getting out of the boat to see, mostly just grassy flats and a very few sponges. We did snorkel just outside of the Bahia Honda marina exit, on the side opposite the swimming area. There are gorgonians, sponges and a few other things to see. Since we had paid to get in and launch the Zodiac, we figured we'd get all we could out of the day.

Thursday winds were only 5 mph and visibility was about all you could hope for close to shore. We launched right at the southwest end of the Seven Mile Bridge and went out to Money Key (Oceanside of the bridge about a mile from shore). We spent a couple of hours looking around on the bridge side of the island. It's pretty lean at the north east end, but as you get near the southwest end things get a lot better.

This is the view looking southwest, away from the bridge where we found snorkeling to be just short of spectacular for what we like to do. The water was 2' deep and we were about 20' to 50' off the island.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Money%20Key%20NW%20end%20P5120166%20R1_zps5eeb6msk.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Money%20Key%20NW%20end%20P5120166%20R1_zps5eeb6msk.jpg.html)


There were a few rocks with some nice stony corals like this Brain Maze.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Maze%20Brain%20P5120273%20R1_zps8zgtrild.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Maze%20Brain%20P5120273%20R1_zps8zgtrild.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Maze%20brain%20close%20up%20P5120274%20R1_zpso0xi6bqe.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Maze%20brain%20close%20up%20P5120274%20R1_zpso0xi6bqe.jpg.html)


Another rock had my attention because it was good size and that often means potential for cool stuff underneath. As I got close I saw this stony coral on the side that was facing away from me as I approached.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P5120204_zpsw7o5uyyt.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P5120204_zpsw7o5uyyt.jpg.html)

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Yello%20sps%20close%20up%20P5120197%20R1_zpscfyohvei.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Yello%20sps%20close%20up%20P5120197%20R1_zpscfyohvei.jpg.html)


I tipped the rock up and what a treasure trove of cool critters all together under one rock. There were 3 or 4 big fire worms (one was about 12" long), 3 or 4 sea cucumbers of different colors, 5 or 6 brittle stars (some big, some small), several spaghetti worms attached to the underside of the rock, more emerald crabs than I could count as they all scurried off instantly. Ay the side of the rock facing away from me there was an Atlantic Deer Cowrie that my wife spotted as I was setting the rock back down. Here are some pics.

The big view as I picked up the rock.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Best%20big%20rock%20P5120201%20R1_zpsiyalvyej.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Best%20big%20rock%20P5120201%20R1_zpsiyalvyej.jpg.html)


Fire worms and brittle stars living together along with sea cucumbers.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Fire%20worm%20and%20brittle%20star%20P5120228%20R1_zpsho4c5l4o.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Fire%20worm%20and%20brittle%20star%20P5120228%20R1_zpsho4c5l4o.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
05/14/2016, 05:22 PM
The cowrie had it's mantle out completely covering it's shell and it makes for a very strange looking sight.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Cowrie%20mantle%20Atlantic%20Deer%20Cowrie%20P5120212%20R1_zpsz5xbkavd.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Cowrie%20mantle%20Atlantic%20Deer%20Cowrie%20P5120212%20R1_zpsz5xbkavd.jpg.html)


I played with it a bit and it pulled in the mantle and exposed a beautiful glossy shell.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Cowrie%20shell%20P5120218%20R1_zpsgdqz7a7l.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Cowrie%20shell%20P5120218%20R1_zpsgdqz7a7l.jpg.html)


And just for fun we tried to get a picture of the cowrie's face. It's upside down in my hands, but you get the idea.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Cowrie%20face%20P5120230%20R1_zps7ryyswbw.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Cowrie%20face%20P5120230%20R1_zps7ryyswbw.jpg.html)


On our way back to the boat we found this sea cucumber in a grassy flat all off on it's own. Probably one of the biggest and coolest looking ones I've seen.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Sea%20Cucumber%20P5120287%20R1_zpsihxtj98f.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Sea%20Cucumber%20P5120287%20R1_zpsihxtj98f.jpg.html)


I'm just trying to figure out if I should put it in our 180g mixed reef or our 65g shallow reef? :lolspin: Just kidding!

Ron Reefman
05/15/2016, 05:35 AM
We don't see many long spine urchins in near shore where we tend to snorkel. But we did see one at Money Key.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Long%20spine%20urcin%20and%20big%20crab%20P5120158%20R1_zpshneba4po.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Long%20spine%20urcin%20and%20big%20crab%20P5120158%20R1_zpshneba4po.jpg.html)


And hiding under the rocks right next to it was a huge crab. It appears to have very little or no claws and I didn't bother trying to get it out of it's home to find out. And I find some crabs as 'cute', like Porcelain crabs and Emerald crabs, but this guy looked like the over sized dumb guy in a cartoon show.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Dumb%20looking%20crab%20P5120163%20R1_zpsk4jpdkjw.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Dumb%20looking%20crab%20P5120163%20R1_zpsk4jpdkjw.jpg.html)


We also saw some small lobsters in the same area.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Lobster%20and%20urcins%20P5120075%20R1_zpsyvjur7lj.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Lobster%20and%20urcins%20P5120075%20R1_zpsyvjur7lj.jpg.html)


BTW, we saw several good size feather dusters that were in corals. They aren't Christmas Tree feather dusters, but they were living like them. I'd love to collect a few and bring them home, but like most rock flower anemones, they set up their home in a deep hole and can retreat in so far there is no prayer of getting them out alive.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Feather%20dusters%20P5120143%20R1_zpsi7mrnmx8.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Feather%20dusters%20P5120143%20R1_zpsi7mrnmx8.jpg.html)


Elaine has such good eyes for seeing things in the water. That's why she takes the photos. I never got to see this stone fish. And in glancing through the almost 500 photos she took, I almost skipped right past this one because I didn't see anything.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Urchin%20camouflage%20P5120171%20R1_zps3pxxpg6s.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Urchin%20camouflage%20P5120171%20R1_zps3pxxpg6s.jpg.html)


Elaine seems to find other animals that tend to hide well. she found a several sea urchins that were pretty well camouflaged. I've seen some carrying a lot of shells and stuff, but this guy was carrying an entire eco-system!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Stone%20fish%20P5120041%20R1_zpsuqqsqx0q.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Stone%20fish%20P5120041%20R1_zpsuqqsqx0q.jpg.html)


After a couple of hours we got back in the boat and moved over to Little Money Key. We really enjoy hanging out in the boat, having lunch and rehydrating. It's fairly quiet, although the traffic on the bridge does provide some background noise, it's far enough away that it's kind of strange. Here we are floating over a shallow reef flat just off a small island, the water is calm and soothing and the world seems kind of far away. Yet just 1/4 mile away there is the hussle and bussle of daily life passing by on the bridge. It reminds me of how lucky we are to be able to enjoy these sights that inspire us to keep glass boxes of ocean at home too. Relaxing at home in front of the tank is very cool, but out on the water, surrounded by it... it's like visiting an alien world.

sam.basye
05/15/2016, 11:53 AM
You're killing me Ron...

Stop posting these pictures... They make me want to take a trip to the keys! Take me with you ;)


If your personal photographer has any more pics, don't be skimpy on the sharing! What kind of camera doe she use? They are great quality.

Thanks for sharing.

Ron Reefman
05/15/2016, 12:20 PM
Sam, I'm retired so all you have to do is let me know when you want to meet up in the Keys (or I meet you at the Miami airport... or the Ft Myers airport... fly Allegiant, it's cheap!). LOL! BTW, the water was 77/78 degrees this trip and I wore a dive skin and a 3/2mm wetsuit and it was just enough, especially if we stayed in the shallower, warmer water.

Elaine takes a lot of photos, nearly 500 in the water on Thursday. Many are worthless, many are OK and some are pretty darn good. We/she uses an Olympus TG-1. I gave it to her as a Christmas present so she could have fun taking pictures (which I enjoy) and I can do critter collecting). It was their first 'tough' camera introduced a few years ago and has been improved some since then. It's got the biggest lens opening of all the tough cameras so it has the smallest f/stop which means it the lower light underwater, it will shot the fastest shutter speed. It has worked flawlessly for us.

Now I do use Photoshop and do the 'auto correct' feature because the camera sees the water as way to green and 'flat'. Auto correct makes the photos look like what we see with the naked eye.

And Elaine says 'thank you' for the compliment about her photos. I admit, she has a better eye for finding stuff and for being creative with the camera.

Ron Reefman
05/15/2016, 01:15 PM
So Thursday after lunch, Elaine was chilly and stayed in the boat to warm up more in the sun. Besides, the last time we snorkeled Little Money Key it was awful! Everything was covered in a slimy algae bloom and everything was dying. We could tell from the boat that things were better, but we couldn't tell how much better. I did an hour snorkel and then convinced Elaine it was too good to past up, so she joined me and we did another hour.

This is me just after lunch sitting in the boat with Little Money Key in the background. The island isn't more than about 100 yards in diameter and 5' above sea level, but there is a very rustic house on the island and it's their dock you see behind me. BTW, the top of the dock is VERY white as it's completely covered in poop from the sea birds that hang out there! Uck!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Me%20in%20the%20boat%20P5120301%20R1_zps8sq3t2dk.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Me%20in%20the%20boat%20P5120301%20R1_zps8sq3t2dk.jpg.html)


The bottom here is a wide mix of textures. There are open sandy areas, some deeper sections (3' to 4' deep) have lots of big sponges. I like the real shallows that are just 2' to 3' deep. And this is a typical view of the bottom in that close to the island. Look closely at the next photo and you can see loose 'finger' coral and 'golf ball' coral, both are non-photosynthetic corals and illegal to collect as they are both stony. There is turtle grass, lots and lots of smaller, colorful sponges, some loose rocks with emerald crabs, serpent and brittle stars, fire worms, spaghetti worms and sea cucumbers... oh and quite a few mantis shrimp. But they are all small (1" to 3" long) and the move super fast when you uncover them. If you look very carefully and closely you can see some Little Money Zoas and there are also some Cinnamon Palys.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/General%20bottom%20at%20LM%20P5120404%20R1_zpsrbqecy1j.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/General%20bottom%20at%20LM%20P5120404%20R1_zpsrbqecy1j.jpg.html)


This is typical of the small rocks or finger corals you can pick up.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/general%20rock%20at%20LM%20P5120407%20R1_zpsyjvaahfd.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/general%20rock%20at%20LM%20P5120407%20R1_zpsyjvaahfd.jpg.html)

Here is a better look at the Little Money Zoas. They like to grow on sponges and dead finger coral. Most are some shade of green and many have kind of a wagon wheel spoke look to them. They are kind of a cross between a zoa and a paly as they are small heads like a zoa, but they can have long stems like a paly.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Little%20Money%20Zoas%20P5120390%20R1_zpssxggkgqw.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Little%20Money%20Zoas%20P5120390%20R1_zpssxggkgqw.jpg.html)


And if you are REALLY lucky, you can find some that are sky blue. Elaine took this photo and I never got to see them live or 10 of them would be in my frag tank now. BTW, the limit on soft corals (except Gorgonians) is 5 polyps per person per day, so Elaine and I could take 10 heads. But I didn't see them... arrrrgh!!!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Little%20Money%20Zoas%20P5120389%20R1_zpslhxnrrrf.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Little%20Money%20Zoas%20P5120389%20R1_zpslhxnrrrf.jpg.html)


Elaine loves big conchs and last spring we saw quite a few here. But in the late summer with the algae bloom we found lots of dead ones. It was a very pleasant surprise that in a 200' x 200' area we snorkeled, we saw 15 to 20 Queen conch. So Elaine got this close up of the conch looking out from under the tip of it's shell.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Queen%20conch%20eyes%20P5120364%20R1_zps2f1vxidg.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Queen%20conch%20eyes%20P5120364%20R1_zps2f1vxidg.jpg.html)


And as she watched it started to feed. I'm not sure what this protrusion is called? I didn't even know Queen conch had them. To me, it's kind of like the trunk of an elephant or the proboscis of a butterfly.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Queen%20conch%20feeding%20P5120366%20R1_zpszvuoragc.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Queen%20conch%20feeding%20P5120366%20R1_zpszvuoragc.jpg.html)

ace_92101
05/15/2016, 01:52 PM
Kudos To your wife for the pics.

AWD
05/15/2016, 03:51 PM
Great pictures and information. Thank you!!

What kind of camera are you using?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Ron Reefman
05/15/2016, 04:12 PM
Great pictures and information. Thank you!!

What kind of camera are you using?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

My wife says"Thank you."

We love the fact that we can tow our little Zodiac down to the Keys behind our Scion xB and have so much fun playing in a giant aquarium. I started this thread because I want to share. I want anybody who ever considers a trip to the Keys and might think about a simple snorkeling day, that it can be done and there is a lot to see. You really don't need a boat, snorkeling off the beach at Bahia Honda State Park is excellent and if you want to do a little collecting, just a couple miles down the road and you are at Spanish Harbor Key and the 'Horseshoe' on the Florida Bay side is also very good. We've been so many times that we got the boat so we can get out to other places.

She uses an Olympus TG-1. I gave it to her as a Christmas present so she could have fun taking pictures (which we both enjoy) and I can do critter collecting (which I enjoy). It was their first 'tough' camera introduced a few years ago and has been improved some since then. It's got the biggest lens opening of all the tough cameras so it has the smallest f/stop which means in the lower light underwater, it will shoot the fastest shutter speed. If I remember right, it's good to 35 or 45 feet. It has worked flawlessly for us and has been in the water probably 100 times or more.

sam.basye
05/15/2016, 09:09 PM
Sam, I'm retired so all you have to do is let me know when you want to meet up in the Keys (or I meet you at the Miami airport... or the Ft Myers airport... fly Allegiant, it's cheap!). LOL! BTW, the water was 77/78 degrees this trip and I wore a dive skin and a 3/2mm wetsuit and it was just enough, especially if we stayed in the shallower, warmer water.

Elaine takes a lot of photos, nearly 500 in the water on Thursday. Many are worthless, many are OK and some are pretty darn good. We/she uses an Olympus TG-1. I gave it to her as a Christmas present so she could have fun taking pictures (which I enjoy) and I can do critter collecting). It was their first 'tough' camera introduced a few years ago and has been improved some since then. It's got the biggest lens opening of all the tough cameras so it has the smallest f/stop which means it the lower light underwater, it will shot the fastest shutter speed. It has worked flawlessly for us.

Now I do use Photoshop and do the 'auto correct' feature because the camera sees the water as way to green and 'flat'. Auto correct makes the photos look like what we see with the naked eye.

And Elaine says 'thank you' for the compliment about her photos. I admit, she has a better eye for finding stuff and for being creative with the camera.

Hmmm, I wonder how mad my wife would be if I said I was in Florida when she gets off work tomorrow... Lol

Where do you usually stay when you head down?


The water there is warmer than it was here in Virginia today; 62 ugh!


Do you ever attempt to catch any fish: for your tanks?
I made a barrier net and it was quite effective the one time I got to use it in the keys.

Ron Reefman
05/16/2016, 05:57 AM
I know what you mean. My wife still works and she is going back today after a week off. She'd be p'off if I left to go back to the Keys.

Does your wife snorkel?

We have been staying at a mom & pop motel 'resort' called Blackfin in Marathon. It's not fancy and maybe not even quite up to Holiday Inn standards, but very close. It's clean, an efficiency room with a stove, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker and minimal utensils is only about $120/night. Regular motel rooms are less expensive. They have a pool, wifi, there is a bar & grill called The Hurricane nextdoor and a dive shop next to that. They are on the Florida Bay side of US-1 and there is a small marina (about 15 slips) and a boat ramp. The dive shop keeps 2 boats in there as well. Off the side of the marina there is a peninsula that extends out to the exit from the marina and they have a tiny, and I mean tiny, beach/waterfront. But just 100 yards off shore is a small coral head island. We drive down and arrive in the afternoon (5 hour drive). Then we decide what level of wet suit or dive skin we want to try and go for a swim to the island for an hour snorkel. The island drops 3' to 4' straight down into the water and the rock walls are full of holes. We see lots of young lobster, juvenile tropical fish, sponges, anemones, feather dusters and occasionally some other critters. It's our way to test the water temp and our gear before we go for a more serious snorkel the next day. From the motel it's only a 10 mile drive over the Seven Mile Bridge to get to Bahia Honda State Park or the Horseshoe on Spanish Harbor Key.

This photo is from the little island just out from the motel. BTW we call it Little Blackfin Key, but I don't think it has a real name. Obviously it wasn't lobster season as even these juveniles would be hiding. I think there are about a dozen of them in the photo.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Acavefulloflobsters_zps93dd4316.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Acavefulloflobsters_zps93dd4316.jpg.html)

I'll be happy when the water warms up a bit more, like 85F and I can get by without a wet suit. I always wear a dive skin just to keep the sun off. It's bad enough that the back of my neck and my bald head need sun block!

I haven't tried catching any fish, but there aren't many I'd be interested in having. There are lots of damsels, sergeant majors, some butterflyfish and Atlantic Tangs but not much else. And catching fish takes a lot of patience as I've had it explained to me.

June 18th & 19th about 20 people in our local aquarium club do a field trip to the area. One guy in the club is great at catching fish and banded coral shrimp. Last year he got a small spear sling and collected (speared) a bunch of Lionfish from the channel that runs across the front of the Horseshoe. Some members go out diving, many more snorkel. We always do a charter boat out to a section of the big reef 5 miles out. It's fun to see the big stuff, but you can't collect anything and they don't want people even touching anything. In fact charter boats don't allow snorkelers to wear gloves! BTW, when we snorkel near shore I ALWAYS wear gloves!

Ron Reefman
05/17/2016, 06:21 AM
Here are a few extra photos from the trip.

These Curly-Q anemones are all quite small at this location in the wild. But I've had a couple at home and they have grown to be several inches across and 4" or 5" tentacles. But they have not been 'pest' anemones that have spread like aiptasia or majano in my tank. But they are all over the place in the Keys.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Curl-Q%20anemone%20P5120355%20R1_zpshwmdhc0w.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Curl-Q%20anemone%20P5120355%20R1_zpshwmdhc0w.jpg.html)


I haven't seen many Atlantic Pearl Oysters in the areas we snorkel in the Keys. But this trip I did see some at both locations. I did bring a couple home and so far they seem to be doing OK. But it's hard to say what the long term survival rate will be. I have kept several clams from the Keys and the Gulf of Mexico for years, so maybe? BTW, these oysters have been known on rare occasion to produce low quality pearls! Maybe next year's anniversary present for my wife! :dance:

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Spiny%20oyster%20P5120327%20R1_zps2rjj1bek.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Spiny%20oyster%20P5120327%20R1_zps2rjj1bek.jpg.html)


There are a number of very cool sponges in the shallow reef flats in the Keys. I only wish some of them could survive in my aquarium at home. I tend to collect one every other trip or so (maybe 2 a year) but they tend to just get smaller and smaller until they disappear from the tank. I never expose them to the air, I pick ones that are on top of rocks in shallow water where they are exposed to the sun in hopes that they might be photosynthetic, but my understanding is that most sponges aren't.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Orange%20sponge%20P5120325%20R1_zps4uu4uti4.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Orange%20sponge%20P5120325%20R1_zps4uu4uti4.jpg.html)


I used to have a lot of tiny spaghetti worms in my tank until I added a wrasse and it ate them all in the first week! I would like to have a bigger one, like these, in my 75g gorgonian tank, but they have proven to be very fragile and have very low survival rate. In this photo you can see one worm has pulled out of it's tube just because we've tipped up the rock. It's the white one with the multiple 'strings' at one end. The orange ones are fire worms. We've seen many of them in the past, but this trip we saw more than usual and they were bigger than usual.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Spaghetti%20worms%20and%20fire%20worms%20P5120211%20R1_zpsgqhujtyw.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Spaghetti%20worms%20and%20fire%20worms%20P5120211%20R1_zpsgqhujtyw.jpg.html)


I have 1 or 2 sea cucumbers in each of my 3 tanks with sand bottoms. The first one I brought home a few years ago has tripled in size from 1-2" to about 6-8" when stretched out. And I have lots of sandy bottom for them as I keep all my Live Rock 1-2"above the sand on egg crate platforms sitting on pvc pipe legs.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Yellow%20sea%20cucumber%20P5120109%20R1_zpsvcxtemra.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Yellow%20sea%20cucumber%20P5120109%20R1_zpsvcxtemra.jpg.html)


One of the most common sponges where we snorkel is the big Ball sponge. This one is very average size, about a foot or more in diameter. We do see some that are 2 feet and bigger. I often find turbo snails and ceriths feeding on the 'stuff' covering the sponge. On really calm days at slack tide we have seen the water exhausting out the bigger holes in the top of the sponge which is 'cleaner' than the rest of the water. It probably has less salt and/or a different temperature and we see it as a shimmer. Like when you mix fresh water into salt water. One time we even found a green moray eel living under a particularly big sponge. BTW, there is a clam attached to the base of this sponge.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Ball%20sponge%20P5120105%20R1_zpsnk90wenw.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Ball%20sponge%20P5120105%20R1_zpsnk90wenw.jpg.html)

G_Sanab922
05/17/2016, 07:18 AM
Like always, great pics!
Those Ball sponges are very nice. Right by my house we have a bunch of them and like you said you can see the water exhausting from the middle of the sponge. They are like miniature springs. I'm pretty sure a lot of them are fresh water, which leads to why manatees love to hang around those types of areas.
A lot of little things like that, people tend to overlook because they are looking for the most colorful or biggest fish/corals.
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy your pics. You and your wife tend to look for the little things that other people often miss. And I believe this is the best way to enjoy yourself when snorkeling or even diving.
Take your time, blend in with the environment and all the critters will come out to play.

sam.basye
05/17/2016, 09:21 AM
I know what you mean. My wife still works and she is going back today after a week off. She'd be p'off if I left to go back to the Keys.

Does your wife snorkel?

We have been staying at a mom & pop motel 'resort' called Blackfin in Marathon. It's not fancy and maybe not even quite up to Holiday Inn standards, but very close. It's clean, an efficiency room with a stove, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker and minimal utensils is only about $120/night. Regular motel rooms are less expensive. They have a pool, wifi, there is a bar & grill called The Hurricane nextdoor and a dive shop next to that. They are on the Florida Bay side of US-1 and there is a small marina (about 15 slips) and a boat ramp. The dive shop keeps 2 boats in there as well. Off the side of the marina there is a peninsula that extends out to the exit from the marina and they have a tiny, and I mean tiny, beach/waterfront. But just 100 yards off shore is a small coral head island. We drive down and arrive in the afternoon (5 hour drive). Then we decide what level of wet suit or dive skin we want to try and go for a swim to the island for an hour snorkel. The island drops 3' to 4' straight down into the water and the rock walls are full of holes. We see lots of young lobster, juvenile tropical fish, sponges, anemones, feather dusters and occasionally some other critters. It's our way to test the water temp and our gear before we go for a more serious snorkel the next day. From the motel it's only a 10 mile drive over the Seven Mile Bridge to get to Bahia Honda State Park or the Horseshoe on Spanish Harbor Key.

This photo is from the little island just out from the motel. BTW we call it Little Blackfin Key, but I don't think it has a real name. Obviously it wasn't lobster season as even these juveniles would be hiding. I think there are about a dozen of them in the photo.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/Acavefulloflobsters_zps93dd4316.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/Acavefulloflobsters_zps93dd4316.jpg.html)

I'll be happy when the water warms up a bit more, like 85F and I can get by without a wet suit. I always wear a dive skin just to keep the sun off. It's bad enough that the back of my neck and my bald head need sun block!

I haven't tried catching any fish, but there aren't many I'd be interested in having. There are lots of damsels, sergeant majors, some butterflyfish and Atlantic Tangs but not much else. And catching fish takes a lot of patience as I've had it explained to me.

June 18th & 19th about 20 people in our local aquarium club do a field trip to the area. One guy in the club is great at catching fish and banded coral shrimp. Last year he got a small spear sling and collected (speared) a bunch of Lionfish from the channel that runs across the front of the Horseshoe. Some members go out diving, many more snorkel. We always do a charter boat out to a section of the big reef 5 miles out. It's fun to see the big stuff, but you can't collect anything and they don't want people even touching anything. In fact charter boats don't allow snorkelers to wear gloves! BTW, when we snorkel near shore I ALWAYS wear gloves!

Well, my wife floats and looks around from there. More of a basic snorkel sightseer. I, on the other hand, swim around and get in everything's business. Lol The sun doesn't get a chance to burn me as I spend +80% of the time exploring at the bottom with only brief air exchanges at the surface.

I will swim though wrecks and float over with very minimal clearance where you have to really suck it in not to get scraped. My wife prefers 6' or less of water and plenty of clearance from touching things or tight spaces. She was fine with the 15'-20' areas on our honeymoon in Curacao because it was nice and clear where you could easily see the bottom. She will usually go with me anywhere if she can hold my hand; makes her feel more secure or safe.

I love the water and can snorkel for hours on end. When I was younger I was a Jr lifeguard for LA County and a lifeguard at a local pool in NC in addition to a swim team in high school. I'm very fish like, according to my mother in law. Lol


The motel seems pretty nice for what you get and where it's located. Will definitely have to check it out!


What gloves do you wear?
I use the thin mechanic gloves with a silicone like grip.


Do you ever do any night snorkels?

Ron Reefman
05/17/2016, 09:21 AM
Like always, great pics!

A lot of little things like that, people tend to overlook because they are looking for the most colorful or biggest fish/corals.
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy your pics. You and your wife tend to look for the little things that other people often miss. And I believe this is the best way to enjoy yourself when snorkeling or even diving.
Take your time, blend in with the environment and all the critters will come out to play.

Thanks. I made my wife read your post because I think it says exactly what we think.

We go to Looe Key and watch all the people from the charter boats scurrying about to see the big corals and chase the Parrotfish around and they are lucky if they see 25% of what is there to see. We go to the edges of the reef or away from the masses of people so we can just float and watch life on the reef happen. And in doing so, we see so many little things. Like finding the urchin that has collected so many shells and other stuff to camouflage itself. We call it nature's hoarder... it doesn't want to let go of anything!

And when we go to the shallow reef flats just off shore, we find a lot less people and therefore a more peaceful experience. And we are in water where it is easy to pick up things to look at them more closely. Big corals are very cool, but so is finding a big, bright red brittle star and having it climb all over your hand and arm, or a small reef octopus do the same thing, or have an emerald crab try to get away from you by trying to climb inside the cuff of your dive glove to hide!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/octopusinhandcloseup_zps829be9c9.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/octopusinhandcloseup_zps829be9c9.jpg.html)

I've always been a big fan of science fiction, especially when it involves going to another planet and finding alien life. That will never happen for me in real life and this is about as close as I can come to seeing and watching very alien creatures up close and personal.

thelawnwrangler
05/23/2016, 05:23 PM
Lol did my first 2 snorkel tours in Key West and had a blast chasing parrot fish lol

Any suggestions for Marathon? I am not confident enough to do on my own yet. Coworker is saying looe key

I don't think I could ever own a tang after seeing blue tangs school and I saw some sharks really cool. How does one join tang police?

ace_92101
05/23/2016, 07:52 PM
Looe Key is one of the better dive spots in the Keys. It's shallow, so snorkeling is also good.

Ron Reefman
05/24/2016, 06:37 AM
Lol did my first 2 snorkel tours in Key West and had a blast chasing parrot fish lol

Any suggestions for Marathon? I am not confident enough to do on my own yet. Coworker is saying looe key

I don't think I could ever own a tang after seeing blue tangs school and I saw some sharks really cool. How does one join tang police?

You can go to Bahia Honda State Park. They have great snorkeling right off the beach on the ocean side. You won't see as much big stuff, even like parrot fish, but we've seen lot and lots of very cool stuff there. But rather than 'chasing' the fish, when you see something cool, just try floating and very gently and slow move toward it. We've seen reef squid, moray eels, cow fish, hog fish, sea biscuits, huge hermit crabs in queen conch shells and we've even seen a big ray and a 4' nurse shark... although those two were in much cooler weather when there was virtually nobody in the water but us in heavy wet suits. The further you get out from the beach the more pristine the bottom is and the bigger the Gorgonians and sponges are. We've been out 1000' off the beach and the water is only 5' or 6' deep.

You can rent a kayak and go out to Little Bahia Honda (about a 1/4 mile off shore) and see even better stuff. I had a 2' long cow fish follow me for 20 minutes while I was looking for stuff under the rocks. I would swim easily within my arms reach. It would occasionally expose a rock boring urchin (there are literally thousands... maybe tens of thousands of them out there) and the cow fish would break it open, eat what it could and the other juvenile and small tropical fish would swarm in and finish the clean up. At one point I poked at it to try and keep it away. I forgot that they have a hard shell like skeleton just under the skin. I was expecting a soft fish body and almost jammed a knuckle in my finger! The cow fish was pretty unfazed by my poke.

And Bahia Honda has a big pontoon boat that does 2 trips a day to Looe Key (mentioned above). We get out there ever couple of years. Big fish, big corals, water that ranges from 20' in the valleys to almost breaking the surface at the ridge tops.

aquavista99
05/24/2016, 07:58 PM
Absolutely stunning pictures. Thanks for sharing. It has been way too long since my last dive trip to the Florida Keys....although the recent great white shark sightings would have me a little on edge. Loved diving Looe key reef the best. Fantastic underwater pictures!

Ron Reefman
05/25/2016, 05:53 AM
aquavista, thanks for the compliments on the photos my wife took, she says she can't wait to get her first picture of a great white shark in the Florida Keys! But she figures her chances are better at winning the Florida Lottery... and she doesn't buy tickets. We know there have been a couple of sightings, but there have been some recent flying saucer sightings in the Everglades on the local news as well. :lol:

Seriously though, there are sharks all over the place down here. I saw a video from a helicopter just off shore near Tampa. Hundreds of people on the beach and in the water and just the other side of a shallow sandbar there were just as many sharks as people swimming parallel to the beach. If you don't smell like blood in the water (or dead fish) and you don't go all freaky and start flailing about like a 3 year old having a temper tantrum when you see a shark, odds are 1,000,000 to 1 it will just swim by.

Since 2010 Florida has averaged 2 people per year killed by lightning and over the same time span only 1 person, a kite surfer along the east coast of Central Florida, was killed by a shark.

Rcook9
05/25/2016, 07:54 AM
Sharks are no big deal at all here in Florida. I've lived in Sarasota FL my whole life and very active on the water. When I was younger we used to catch bull sharks off the same dock we jumped and swam off of. They are everywhere in the water but chances are like the above post stated you will not get bit. I have been in the water and seen many sharks as well and I have never had a issue with any of them, they seam to keep their distance and do not disturb you if you don't bother them.

Sent from my SM-G920V using Tapatalk

Speedfreak241
05/29/2016, 07:17 PM
Well finally went out to money key to see what Ron is always talking about and it was beautiful. There was so much life the second we stepped off the boat. We saw tons of corals, fish and inverts. We docked on the farthest side away from the bridge in about 4-5 foot of water and swam to the island and then snorkeled for hours. We had a blast but had to go because one of our motors was having a problem and we were tired from battling the current. Definetly one of the best shallow places I've gotten to dive.

Ron Reefman
05/30/2016, 04:02 AM
Speedfreak241, a few questions if you don't mind.

1) Were you at Money Key on the oceanside of the Seven Mile Bridge or Little Money Key on the Florida Bay side of the bridge?

It seems both islands are best on the sides that face away from the bridge. Little Money is quite different from Money, but just as interesting. Really glad to hear that you enjoyed the snorkel.

Tidal currents can be fairly strong around any of the islands. We use to plan to be out before slack tide so we could have an easy go of it. But we've found that up close to either island the currents weren't so strong.

2) Since you are kind of local to the Keys, do you get down there to snorkel very often?

3) Speedfreak241, that's an interesting screen name. What's it about? I ask because I use to race sports cars and still do autocross and track days with my Miata.

4) How's the outboard?

Speedfreak241
05/30/2016, 08:16 AM
1. I was at money key on the ocean side facing away from the bridge.

2. Even though I'm local I don't get to snorkel down at money key often because our house in in Islamorada and it takes a lot of fuel to get down there.

3. My screen name comes from one of my old dragsters. It was called speed demon and was painted with a nice old flame paint job. The nickname speed freak kinda stuck because we were always shooting to be the fastest car. As for the 241 that was my old racing number.
http://s33.postimg.org/pmoki38mj/image.jpg (http://postimg.org/image/pmoki38mj/)

4. The motor itself is fine but when we almost sunk the boat a month back when we left the back hatch unsealed and tried to launch it in a steep boat ramp, it corroded a wire and isn't letting the motor turn over correctly so it makes it hard to start. It's an easy fix since the guy who owns the boat is a outboard mechanic.

thelawnwrangler
05/30/2016, 09:04 PM
Reefman while at marathon one day was too rough so we went to the bay side. I saw a purple tip anenome and a baby blue tang. I was a little surprised to find the little anenome in a grassy mangrove type area.

I made it out to Sombrero reef and it was nice. Thanks for all the advice and this thread I can't wait to go back.

G_Sanab922
05/31/2016, 07:08 AM
Went out fishing for mahi this week. A lot of boaters out there. But the weather was great so that helps out with the craziness.
Caught a nice sized filefish while out there. And 4 babies ones the size of a finger nail.

Ron Reefman
06/01/2016, 06:53 AM
Reefman while at marathon one day was too rough so we went to the bay side. I saw a purple tip anenome and a baby blue tang. I was a little surprised to find the little anenome in a grassy mangrove type area.

I made it out to Sombrero reef and it was nice. Thanks for all the advice and this thread I can't wait to go back.

You're welcome, I'm really happy to try and help out and that you enjoyed the Keys! My wife and I will be down in the Middle Keys again in mid June with about 20 members of our local saltwater aquarium club.

I started this thread so people who don't scuba dive and don't have a boat could find places to snorkel and get some of the same kind of underwater experiences that divers do. And if you live close enough to the area, you can do some collecting for your personal aquarium at home. I live just over 4 hours from the Middle Keys. And with the right equipment I have been able to keep everything I collect alive for the trip home until I can get them into my 65g shallow reef tank.

If you got out to Sombrero reef and liked it, next time get out to Looe Key reef. Bahia Honda State Park has a charter and several independent outfits go out there as well. I think it has much better shallow water (less than 15 ft) corals. But not the big stuff that Sombrero has in the deeper water which is better for scuba divers.

The purple tip anemone is a Condy. They are pretty common in the Keys and as of a year or two ago have become protected in Florida. They vary from mostly white with purple tips to all purple. Very often they are home to the anemone shrimp which can be VERY difficult to see. They hide quickly and are mostly clear with some small spots on their body.

thelawnwrangler
06/01/2016, 07:23 AM
You're welcome, I'm really happy to try and help out and that you enjoyed the Keys! My wife and I will be down in the Middle Keys again in mid June with about 20 members of our local saltwater aquarium club.

I started this thread so people who don't scuba dive and don't have a boat could find places to snorkel and get some of the same kind of underwater experiences that divers do. And if you live close enough to the area, you can do some collecting for your personal aquarium at home. I live just over 4 hours from the Middle Keys. And with the right equipment I have been able to keep everything I collect alive for the trip home until I can get them into my 65g shallow reef tank.

If you got out to Sombrero reef and liked it, next time get out to Looe Key reef. Bahia Honda State Park has a charter and several independent outfits go out there as well. I think it has much better shallow water (less than 15 ft) corals. But not the big stuff that Sombrero has in the deeper water which is better for scuba divers.

The purple tip anemone is a Condy. They are pretty common in the Keys and as of a year or two ago have become protected in Florida. They vary from mostly white with purple tips to all purple. Very often they are home to the anemone shrimp which can be VERY difficult to see. They hide quickly and are mostly clear with some small spots on their body.
I have always loved aquariums and when I hit that water my mind was blown. I want to go there again next year. I did some deep sea fishing in Mexico and it was cool, but I would much rather see them then catch them lol. I definitely need to get to looe key.

Ron Reefman
06/01/2016, 12:39 PM
I have always loved aquariums and when I hit that water my mind was blown. I want to go there again next year. I did some deep sea fishing in Mexico and it was cool, but I would much rather see them then catch them lol. I definitely need to get to looe key.

Well, I should be able to wet your appetite in a few weeks. We (my wife and I along with our aquarium club) are using a charter that is taking us to Looe Key and giving us an hour in one location on the reef and then a second hour at a different location! I wouldn't be surprised if my wife take 500 to 1000 pictures!

LJA
06/04/2016, 04:16 AM
Ron, my wife and I live in Melbourne and are trying to plan a trip to the keys to do some snorkeling off the beach or accessible via kayak (which we will be bringing with us). Where exactly in Bahia Honda should we go to find shallow snorkeling? Where exactly can we collect some snails/stars if I find some cool ones? We've done a good amount of near-shore kayaking the beach so we can travel some decent distance well. Any other must see/non-snorkeling activities between the north keys and Bahia Honda?

Ron Reefman
06/04/2016, 06:08 PM
LJA, when are you going?

I had a long, detailed reply almost done and then hit a wrong key and closed the website and lost it! :headwalls:

Later tonight or Sunday morning I'll do it again, I'm too frustrated now!:uhoh3:

Ron Reefman
06/05/2016, 05:33 AM
There’s so much I’d like to tell you. I’ve sent you a PM with my phone number, if you really want detailed help call me. I want people who visit the Keys to snorkel to have as much fun as we do, so I’m happy to share.

These are all shallow (3’to 6’) and even VERY shallow (18” to 3’) snorkel locations.

1) Snorkeling off the Bahia Honda beach is about as good as I’ve ever seen in shallow reef flats in the Florida Keys. Go to the beach at the SW end of the park (there isn’t anything to see at the north beach and very little (but some) at the beach on the NW side of the island. We think the best area is straight out from a big ‘movie’ screen that is just behind the beach and very visible from the water. After 50’ of sandy bottom there is some turtle grass and then the bottom opens up to ball and vase sponges and a lot of colorful smaller sponges. There are lots of gorgonian corals, some macro algae, juvenile tropical fish and lots of other interesting little critters. Less often, but not rarely we’ve seen moray eels, reef squid, sting rays and one time even a 4’ nurse shark. The water is fairly shallow a long way out from the beach and if you go out to where the water is 5’ deep or more it is much more pristine than in the waters closer to the beach. Collecting is not allowed.

2) Snorkeling at Bahia Honda with a kayak is good because there is an island, Little Bahia Honda Key, that is just a 1/2 mile off the beach (it looks closer). BTW, they rent kayaks there for those that don’t have them. There is a VERY shallow reef flat on the NE side of the island. Lots of rocks and more rock boring urchins than I’ve ever seen on one patch reef anywhere! There are even more small inverts here than off the beach mentioned above. But again, no collecting.


3) With the kayak you can put in at a boat ramp right at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge on Little Duck Key, and there are up to 3 islands you can get to depending on your willingness to venture out. And all 3 are open to collecting, just be aware that Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission rangers often stop by the boat ramp to inspect safety gear, legality of caught fish & lobster and legality of collections. A) Little Money Key is a bit less than a mile from the ramp and the NW side of the island (the side away from the bridge) is a wonderful reef flat. B) Money Key is on the ocean side of the bridge and about a mile from the boat ramp. We think the SE side of the island is best (again, facing away from the bridge), but there is stuff all around. C) Molasses Key is 2.5 miles from the ramp on the same side of the bridge as Little Money. There is great snorkeling here all around the island (actually there are 2 islands). I’ve only been there once myself but if the weather is good (calm water) and visibility is good, we hope to get out there when we go down to the Keys in a couple of weeks with our local Aquarium club.

4) Final good place to snorkel in the area is Spanish Harbor Key. As soon as you get off the bridge (heading south) there is a pull off and at the bottom of a small hill there is a parking lot. On the Florida Bay side (NE end) is an old quarry from the construction of the Flagler RR that is known as The Horseshoe. It extends almost 200 yards out into the water and is over 100 yards wide. Inside its 40’ to 60’ deep (we’ve been told by divers) and there isn’t much there for snorkelers. But all around the quarry on the outside is rocky rubble with lots and lots of rocks to look under. It isn’t very pretty (reef like) but it has tons of character and lots of critters that can be collected. The other ‘special’ point about The Horseshoe is that if the winds are strong and even if visibility is low at other locations, this one is ‘protected’ from most winds by the island and the very shape of the quarry ‘arms’ extending out into the water.

Over the road from the parking lot on the SE side is another good snorkel spot. They just created a ‘walkway’ from the parking lot around the NE end of the island and under the bridge so you don’t need to walk up the hill, cross the road and down the hill on the other side. But it is like all the other sites, subject to wind conditions.

Other points of interest we’d recommend…
If the weather is bad and you don’t mind a 30 minute drive, The History of Diving Museum on Islamorada is a great spot to visit. We spent several hours there, but then we love these kinds of museums.
Also on Islamorada is The Rain Barrel Artisans Village is cool. Out front there is a HUGE fiberglass lobster and the front couple of shops are typical tourist traps shops. But out back there a bunch of much nicer shops and artist workshops.
While you are at Bahia Honda, visit the Nature Center there. It’s small but it has some pretty cool stuff.
If you want some exercise, walk the Flagler RR Bridge from the SW end of Marathon out to Pigeon Key. The starting point was used in the film True Lies with ‘Arnold’ and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s almost a 2 mile walk out to the end, but then you get to look down on the reef flats around Pigeon Key. We (I) hope to snorkel there some day soon (my wife is pretty iffy about taking an 11’ Zodiac out there). We saw a couple huge Spotted Eagle Rays digging up conch and a huge barracuda and a 6’ shark swim right past each other about 2’ or 3’ apart directly below us as we watched from the bridge. It was like 2 workers passing each other during shift change at a factory! Hi Joe… Hi Sam… that’s it, no emotion and just the minimum recognition that the other was even there. There is also a touristy trinket shop in an old RR car just across from the parking lot.

We have not done much other than snorkel, eat and rest up for the next day when we visit the Keys. We go to get maximum face time looking down into an alien world that we can’t get at home. We’ve visited most of the State Parks, but not many other attractions like the Aquarium Encounter, the Turtle Hospital, the Dolphin Center, the Crane Point Museum & Nature Center or the Theater of the Sea. We’ve been to Key West, but it’s not our cup of tea. On the other hand I’d love to hear what other people who have visited any of these attractions has to say about them.

If you want motel or restaurant suggestions, call me. I’ve probably been too commercial with this post already!

Ron Reefman
06/06/2016, 05:06 AM
Tropical Storm Curtis is going to pass by us here in SW Florida and head up toward the Big Bend area of Florida. We get some good winds from the west and some rain, but the wind means that 'stuff' will get washed up on the beaches of Sanibel Island. Right now it looks like Wednesday will best the best day, still rainy, but the best day to find stuff alive on the beach. If I go, and I want to, I'll report back here.

And in a couple of weeks we have a Florida Keys snorkel vacation for 5 days.:bounce3:

G_Sanab922
06/06/2016, 06:53 AM
Tropical Storm Curtis is going to pass by us here in SW Florida and head up toward the Big Bend area of Florida. We get some good winds from the west and some rain, but the wind means that 'stuff' will get washed up on the beaches of Sanibel Island. Right now it looks like Wednesday will best the best day, still rainy, but the best day to find stuff alive on the beach. If I go, and I want to, I'll report back here.

And in a couple of weeks we have a Florida Keys snorkel vacation for 5 days.:bounce3:

I just got back from Sanibel. Have friends in naples and it was raining every single day. In Sanibel it was clear beautiful skies the whole weekend lol left at the perfect time.

On low tide I was able to find some nice critters while walking the beach. Love it there!

Ron Reefman
06/07/2016, 07:16 AM
TS Colin never blew very hard here and a friend just invited me to go with him to World Wide Corals in Orlando for the day. I've never been so I'm blowing off the beach walk to go see (and maybe buy) some cool corals!

steallife904
06/08/2016, 02:04 PM
TS Colin never blew very hard here and a friend just invited me to go with him to World Wide Corals in Orlando for the day. I've never been so I'm blowing off the beach walk to go see (and maybe buy) some cool corals!

WWC is a very nice store. they have one of the best show tanks in the from I have ever seen. They are known to have some really nice stuff but can be pricey.

I have a trip to the Bahamas this weekend and was concerned last weekend when I heard about the storm. It seems like it didn't do anything down there as far as I can tell. I live in Jacksonville so it cam right through us but for the most part it was like a bad thunderstorm here. we did get a few tornados but luckily not to bad.

Ron Reefman
06/09/2016, 06:41 AM
WWC was pretty nice. Two very nice DT's up front. But of all the LFS stores and coral selling locations I ever been to, they had by far the best system for displaying frags and having prices posted and multiple frags to pick from! I ended up with a couple cool frags I've never seen locally. I wish it was closer to home. But a 3 hour drive there to spend and hour looking and buying and then a 3 hour drive home just isn't worth it.

Just a week till we leave for some Keys snorkel time!

sam.basye
06/09/2016, 07:44 AM
WWC was pretty nice. Two very nice DT's up front. But of all the LFS stores and coral selling locations I ever been to, they had by far the best system for displaying frags and having prices posted and multiple frags to pick from! I ended up with a couple cool frags I've never seen locally. I wish it was closer to home. But a 3 hour drive there to spend and hour looking and buying and then a 3 hour drive home just isn't worth it.

Just a week till we leave for some Keys snorkel time!
What'd you get?!?!

Can't just say you got cool frags and not give details.. That's just cruel! Lol

G_Sanab922
06/09/2016, 09:09 AM
What'd you get?!?!

Can't just say you got cool frags and not give details.. That's just cruel! Lol

I agree. Pics or it didn't happen! LOL

LJA
06/13/2016, 02:10 AM
Thanks so much for taking the time to reply with the scoop on snorkeling spots Ron. We're planning on going either the last week of June or the following holiday weekend, hoping to see some cool stuff. WWC is great, check out them out on eBay too! Sometimes cheaper than in store with flat rate shipping.

Ron Reefman
06/16/2016, 02:46 PM
Leaving for the Keys and the weekend weather looks so good I can't believe it! Saturday the club goes out to Looe Key as a group. I'm hoping to get Elaine to go out to Molasas Key with the Zodiac this trip. Especially if the wind is going to be anything like I'm seeing in the Windfinder weather forecast!

My goal is a couple different Gorgonians and 1 or 2 Flamingo Tongue snails for my 75g Gorgonian tank.

sam.basye
06/16/2016, 02:53 PM
I agree. Pics or it didn't happen! LOL



He's ignoring us...

Do you think he has buyers remorse or the frags are soo cool he doesn't want to make us jealous?

Come-on Ron, share the goods! Lol




Looking forward to seeing if you find the gorgonians and snails your on the hunt for. Tell your wife we want pics :)

Fissues
06/16/2016, 04:01 PM
Ron, have you ever tried keeping one of those ever prevalent sea-fans that occur near the top of the reef? There are tons of them...

On a side note, I went down to marathon for a week in april. Enjoyed some snorkeling off the beach, and went out to sombrero reef twice. Sombrero was amazing.

Post some pictures!

Ron Reefman
06/21/2016, 05:09 AM
OK guys, it's going to take a bit of time, but I have a ton of pictures to post and I'll start with the corals from WWC. Oh, and Fisses, where are your photos from your Keys trip??? I'd like to see even some taken on land (in case you didn't have an underwater camera)! :thumbsup:

I haven't been ignoring the requests for pics, but I was in the Keys with our aquarium club for the last 5 days and all in all we had a great trip! We snorkeled Looe Key with a charter boat and personally I found that a bit disappointing. But then I've been there multiple times, this time we were over a deeper section of reef, the water was a bit murky with super fine sediment and for most of the 2 1/2 hours the sun was behind clouds. Take all those things together and the reef wasn't as 'vivid' as I'd have wanted and the corals were looking a bit 'beat up' even though it was a deeper section of reef. And maybe it's that just looking a bigger coral colonies and pretty fish is getting a bit old for me. I admit, I like hands on exploring and seeing stuff that we NEVER see out snorkeling on the big reef. If you've never been, it's a very cool experience and well worth the trip. But I get out to Looe Key or Sombrero Lighthouse once or twice every summer. My wife enjoys it because she is a photographer and if the conditions are right, it can be a great photo opportunity.

But I'm an explorer, investigator, collector and I like having a hands on experience. I'd rather be on a shallow reef flat where I can poke around, look under rocks and find things like an octopus, or a huge horse conch, or a field of green zoas, or a hideaway with 3 juvenile lobsters that I can get up close and personal with.

So we snorkeled a small island just off the marina at Blackfin Resort on Friday afternoon. That's been kind of our warm up snorkel where we make sure our gear is all in good condition and we get to see how warm (or cold) the water is so we can pick the right dive skin or wet suit for the next couple of days were we will be in the water for hours. Then on Saturday we did Looe Key and the Horseshoe, and finally Money Key and Little Money Key on Sunday.

For me, Sunday was the best day. I love being out at a small island with a shallow reef flat, almost no other people or snorkelers around and lots of acreage to explore. We wanted to get out to Molasses Key (2.5 to 3 miles from shore) on Sunday but in the morning the tide and wind were opposing each other and making for some chop. And being in an 11' Zodiac, that made my wife just uncomfortable enough that we opted for Money Key (barely a mile from shore) instead. In the afternoon the wind died down and we could have gone on to Molasses Key, but we had already spent close to 3 hours in the water and we were getting tired. And on the way back to the boat ramp we had the opportunity to stop off at Little Money Key. So that's what we did, and as is almost always the case, we were impressed.

I came home with some green zoas, a few emerald and ruby crabs, a few sea stars, a yellow sea cucumber, 1 red and 1 white flame scallop, a coral banded shrimp, an Atlantic oyster, 2 small clams, a hand full of feather dusters, a couple of sponges (to experiment with), some turbo snails, some small star snails, some cerith snails, some tiny hermit crabs, a small rock flower anemone, a few tiny Curly-Q anemones, 1 chiton and some macro algae. I also brought home about 2/3rds to 3/4ths of a red brittle star's arm that broke off while I was moving a rock. I made sure the star was OK and safely back under a rock and I collected the arm. At 48 hours, yesterday afternoon while I was sorting critters out, it was still moving. I found it a quiet spot in a corner of my 65g shallow reef and I'll do my best to watch it and see if it develops into a full blown star. Frankly, I was surprised at 48 hours that it was still moving! My best guess is that it won't make it, but I wanted to try.

That's the same thing I'm trying with the couple of sponges I collected. I have a few sponges (2 nice photosynthetic) in my tanks already. And I have been able to keep most other animals I try to keep, like a non-photosynthetic hitchhiker anemone, clams, oysters, non-photosynthetic gorgonians, sea cucumbers (sand cleaners and filter feeders), stars, feather dusters, chitons and more. But almost every sponge I bring home from the Keys fails to survive longer than a couple of months.

Elaine took about 900 photos and I have only looked a a couple she sent off to friends and family. So over the next few days I'll sort through them and each day I'll post some. And I'll start later today with the corals I got from WWC (I still haven't taken a photo of them).

sam.basye
06/21/2016, 06:25 AM
Looking forward to the pictures! :)

Ron Reefman
06/21/2016, 10:18 AM
OK, first things first. Here are the 2 corals I got from WWC. And these are awful pics. I can't seem to get the color right with my camera. I may take Elaine's underwater camera and try again.

This, believe it or not, is a gold colored porites coral.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6210115%20R1_zpshkx8qp5i.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6210115%20R1_zpshkx8qp5i.jpg.html)


And this was called Jingle Bells by WWC and is in the same family (Cyphastrea) as meteor shower. It's really quite green with red polyps.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6210117%20R1_zpsweayvev7.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6210117%20R1_zpsweayvev7.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
06/22/2016, 08:41 AM
Highlite number one of the weekend was Saturday morning. We went out to Looe Key with Strike Force Charters and they did a very nice job. The Captain and First Mate were very friendly and helpful. It was an fairly cloudy day with the sun only peeking out infrequently. That made viewing the reef a bit better, but most of the time the reef was a bit darker than I would have liked. One of the bright spots was a 5'+ goliath grouper that came by and hung out under the snorkel boat for a while. I managed to be up beside the boat when it decided to swim away and I could almost have reached out and touched it! Elaine did manage to get a few photos. But while under the boat it was heavily shaded and those photos didn't turn out well at all. That's why digital photography is so cool. Elaine took over 900 photos over 2 days and I picked out about 100 that I liked and looked usable. No film cost and no developing or printing cost... technology does work to improve some things!

So here are the goliath grouper photos taken as it was swimming out from under the boat.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180174%20R1%20grouper_zpscqjw3ecs.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180174%20R1%20grouper_zpscqjw3ecs.jpg.html)


http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180177%20R1%20grouper_zpso1me0rza.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180177%20R1%20grouper_zpso1me0rza.jpg.html)

Ron Reefman
06/25/2016, 05:42 AM
After we did our 'test' snorkel out at the little island just 100 yards of shore from the motel on Friday, we were ready for our aquarium club group snorkel with Strike Force Charters on Saturday morning. The weather was OK, low winds and calm water, but mostly cloudy which makes even shallow waters less vibrant to look at. But we all had fun and we got about 2 1/2 hours in the water!

There was quite a school of light blue tangs at the reef.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180308%20R1%20light%20blue%20tangs_zps2i3nyihs.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180308%20R1%20light%20blue%20tangs_zps2i3nyihs.jpg.html)


This pipe fish was pretty shy and didn't want to allow Elaine to get a good photo.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180119%20R1%20file%20fish_zps6rn9sicz.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180119%20R1%20file%20fish_zps6rn9sicz.jpg.html)


There were several schools of sergeant majors in the area.

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180132%20R1%20sargent%20majors%20good_zpsp0xelnsz.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180132%20R1%20sargent%20majors%20good_zpsp0xelnsz.jpg.html)


Our favorite fish of the day (after the huge grouper in the previous post) was this midnight blue parrotfish. We've seen a lot, and I mean a LOT of parrotfish over the years and we've never seen one of these. And blue happens to be Elaine's favorite color so she stayed after this one as long as she could!

http://i395.photobucket.com/albums/pp37/RonReefman/P6180241%20R1%20Blue%20parrot%20fish_zpsae2y4scg.jpg (http://s395.photobucket.com/user/RonReefman/media/P6180241%20R1%20Blue%20parrot%20fish_zpsae2y4scg.jpg.html)

On a side note, anybody having issues with Photobucket since they did some kind of maintenance or upgrade a few days ago? I'm finding it very difficult to upload new pics to their site. I have storage space left, and after several long failures to load, the same image that has failed 2, 3 even 4 times, then loads and works OK??? That's why photos are so slow coming from me. I'd post a buch more, but Photobucket has become a giant pain to use!

I think I'd be interested in a new photo hosting site. Any suggestions? I wish I could just upload them here directly from my computer.